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Is your employer monitoring your sex life?

If you work for Wal-Mart, J.P. Morgan, or another company that has hired "wellness firms" to track its employees' health, the answer could be yes, according to a recent report from the Wall Street Journal.

As Popular Science explains, wellness firms aim to lower insurance costs for employers by "providing employees with healthcare information and helping them make informed decisions."  

Here's how that could look in real life: an employer could check insurance records to keep tabs on how frequently a woman refills a birth control prescription or monitor how often she searches for fertility treatments online, and predict the likelihood she will become pregnant in the near future. Then, she could be sent messages through the firm's app recommendingcertain doctors or prenatal care routines. Similarly, an employee considered to be at risk for diabetes could be sent messages encouraging them to sign up for workplace wellness plans or weight-loss programs.

In the case of Castlight Health, the firm profiled by the Wall Street Journal, employees must explicitly agree to share their data with the app. But at the same time, it's unclear what restrictions—if any—there are on how that data could be used.

Sound shocking? According to medical ethicist Arthur Caplan, it's not the first time companies have mined health care data for their own uses—and that there aren't many laws protecting the privacy of a person's health care data.

"If you're going to stop using your birth control, Wal-Mart wants to know so it can start sending you ads for diapers or playpens or kids toys," he explained. 

"Letting commercial markets get access to health information in any way, or allowing drug stores or doctors to resell it to others so they can track us—boy, I think that's really ethically crazy," he said.

Arthur Caplan is the Drs. William F. and Virginia Connolly Mitty Professor of Bioethics and the director of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University's Langone Medical Center. To hear more from Arthur Caplan, tune in to Boston Public Radio above.