Revelations by AOL Boss Raise Fears Over Privacy

By Natasha Singer
NYTimes.com, February 10, 2014

Tim Armstrong, the chief executive of AOL, apologized last weekend for publicly revealing sensitive health care details about two employees to explain why the online media giant had decided to cut benefits. He even reinstated the benefits after a backlash.

Tim Armstrong, the chief executive of AOL, apologized last weekend for publicly revealing sensitive health care details about two employees to explain why the online media giant had decided to cut benefits. He even reinstated the benefits after a backlash.

But patient and work force experts say the gaffe could have a lasting impact on how comfortable — or discomfited — Americans feel about bosses’ data-mining their personal lives.

Mr. Armstrong made a seemingly offhand reference to “two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were O.K.” The comments, made in a conference call with employees, brought an immediate outcry, raising questions over corporate access to and handling of employees’ personal medical data.

“This example shows how easy it is for employers to find out if employees have a rare medical condition,” said Dr. Deborah C. Peel, founder of Patient Privacy Rights, a nonprofit group in Austin, Tex. She urged regulators to investigate Mr. Armstrong’s disclosure about the babies, saying “he completely outed these two families.”

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