FTC: Health Apps Often Share User Data With Vendor, Third Parties

A new study released by mobile engagement provider Mobiquity has found 70 percent of people use some type of health or fitness app on a daily basis. However, the information these users input into the app or that the app collects through user actions may be disclosed to the app vendor and other third parties without user consent, raising privacy concerns, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

In July 2013, FTC researchers examined 43 paid and free health and fitness apps, looking at both the data flow and the app's privacy policy. The researchers found 26 percent of the free apps and 40 percent of the paid apps did not have a privacy policy, and 39 percent of the free apps and 30 percent of the paid apps sent data to a party not disclosed either in the privacy policy or anywhere in the app itself.

"Our research brought us to the conclusion that, from a privacy perspective, mobile health and fitness apps are not particularly safe when it comes to protecting user privacy," according to the researchers.

The FTC recently did a follow-up study to see where users' information was being sent. Researchers tracked data transmissions of 12 apps and two wearable devices and found user information ranging from device information to gender to diet information was sent to a total of 76 third parties by the app or its vendor. One app sent information to 18 different third-party entities.

Some of the most pronounced privacy concerns arise when both unique identifiers, such as a user's email address or device identifier, and that user's health information are disclosed to the same third party. "There are significant privacy implications where health routines, dietary habits and symptom searchers are capable of being aggregated using identifiers unique to that consumer," according to the FTC.

More Articles on Health Apps:

Health Data Connectivity To Be Widespread By 2025, Survey Finds
4 App Development Best Practices From Atlantic Health System
Study: 60% of Health, Fitness App Users Don't Share Data With Their Physicians

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