ObamaCare site sharing data with third parties

The federal ObamaCare exchange has been sharing data about enrollees with private companies for advertising and data performance purposes, raising fresh questions about the privacy protections in place on the site.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday evening that the information shared with companies can include specific data such as a person's age, income, smoking habits, pregnancy status and ZIP code, as well as their computer's IP address, which can be used, in part, to identify their name and location. 

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Officials defended the flow of data to private firms, saying it is meant to improve the consumer experience and cannot be used by companies for private gain. 

"We deploy tools on the window shopping application that collect basic information to optimize and assess system performance," Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a statement shared with The Hill. 

"We believe that the use of these tools are common and represent best practices for a typical e-commerce site," he added.

The Associated Press report was published hours before President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night, where he made a push to protect personal data online through cybersecurity action.

“If we don’t act, we’ll leave our nation and our economy vulnerable,” he said. “If we do, we can continue to protect the technologies that have unleashed untold opportunities for people around the globe.”

Albright said the privacy and security of personal data for those who sign up for health insurance on the ObamaCare marketplace is a "top priority" and the administration follows "the leading industry standards to keep their information secure and private."

HealthCare.gov says it may share information with insurance companies and various government agencies and employers to determine one's eligibility, as well as "contractors that perform functions for the Marketplace to accomplish the specific functions they’re engaged to perform."

Two top Republicans are questioning oversight of the data. 

Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchUS, South Korea can bury the trade barrier hatchet this week Time to get Trump’s new antitrust cop on the beat The Hill's Whip List: Senate ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (Utah) and Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGOP’s message on ObamaCare is us versus them Juan Williams: Trump refills the swamp Senate panel questions Lynch on alleged FBI interference MORE (Iowa) wrote to the administration Tuesday, saying "this new information is extremely concerning, not only because it violates the privacy of millions of Americans, but because it may potentially compromise their security," according to the AP.

In his address, Obama did not mention HealthCare.gov or the administration's current enrollment period, a stark contrast from his address last year. Officials hope to sign up 9 million customers by Feb. 15.

Sarah Ferris contributed.