Mobile Health Apps Could Compromise Your Privacy

Original Source 

By now you've probably downloaded a health or fitness app on your smart phone. Millions of people use them to enter all sorts of personal information from their diets to health conditions, even sexual activity. But you could be compromising your privacy.

Avid biker Matt Demargel pedaled his way to losing 30 pounds and credits health and fitness apps for getting him there.

"The apps have been very critical in helping me achieve my goals," he said.

He enters his height, weight, everything he eats, along with how much he exercises into one app, using another app to record each bike ride. He also realizes he's not the only one keeping track. Many apps share your information with third parties.

"I've made a choice that being that this was going to help me from a health perspective, that I would take the privacy risk," said Demargel.

How big of a risk could you be taking? If apps are used to transmit information to your doctor, pharmacy, or any health care plan or provider, that data is confidential and protected. But if HIPAA doesn't apply, then it's up to each app to disclose its privacy policy.

This study, by Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, reveals more than one-third of apps it reviewed sent data to parties it didn't disclose.

"I think that's troubling. In the health and fitness context, where consumers are used to thinking about sharing their information in the traditional provider context, I think they might be surprised about the collection of information that's happening," said Cora Tung Han.

The Application Developers Alliance says it encourages app makers to be upfront about data collection. Targeted ads are their main motivation.

"So, if you have high blood pressure and you are telling the app, 'I have high blood pressure,' you should expect you're going to get advertisements for high blood pressure medicine," said Jon Potter.

Despite the risks, Demargel doesn't plan to put the brakes on his apps anytime soon, but heis careful about what he shares.

"I just make sure if it's out there, it's something I'm comfortable with the whole world knowing," said Demargel.

Other privacy tips: If you can find an app's policy, be sure to read it carefully and make sure you feel comfortable with it.