Health apps routinely share data, fail to give users details

Popular health apps commonly share users’ data and have yet to make these actions transparent, experts warned in a study published in The BMJ.

Researchers at the University of Toronto (Canada) downloaded and tested 24 medicine-related apps for Android users in the U.K., U.S., Canada and Australia. All apps included in the study were available publicly and provided information on medicine-dispensing.

Every app was used 14 times, and researchers identified baseline traffic relating to 28 different types of user data. Altering the user every time, the apps were run to test privacy leaks. The study defined privacy leaks as “sensitive information sent to a remote server, outside of the app.”

The majority of the apps (79 percent) shared user data outside of the app. Researchers the health apps sent data to 55 unique entities, owned by 46 parent companies.

Amazon and Alphabet received the highest volume of user data, followed by Microsoft.

Researchers concluded that health professionals “should be conscious of privacy risks in their own use of apps, and when recommending apps, explain the potential for loss of privacy as a part of informed consent.”

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