And You Thought It Was Private

The popularity of health apps is exploding. A study late last year claimed there are more than 165,000 mobile health apps available to consumers! Wow.

But a recent study in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests that the health information you thought was private – may be going public. From Fox News Health:

Just because a health app has a privacy policy doesn’t mean the data will remain private, an analysis of mobile tools for diabetes suggests.

In fact, privacy policies appear rare, and when they do exist, most state that user data will be collected and half warn that medical information will be shared with third parties.

You may be surprised to learn that 81 percent of the apps reviewed in the study did not have privacy policies. According to StatNews.com,  “out of a randomly selected subset of 65 apps, 56 of them (86 percent) used tracking cookies, which could allow them to send information about the user to other companies, such as marketing firms.”

Wait….that can’t be legal, can it? Well, according to LiveScience.com, there’s nothing “illegal” about it.

There is no federal law that prevents the health information contained in apps from being shared with third parties, and apps don’t always disclose when they share information, she (study co-author Sarah Blenner) said.

Even if an app does disclose how it shares user information “it might be buried in a hard-to-understand or difficult-to-access privacy policy,” Blenner said.

Ms. Blenner was also quoted by NewsMax.com as saying, ““App developers avoid privacy policies because they want to be able to share health information to advertisers without the knowledge of the users.”

While some doctors may suggest that their patients use health apps to track everything from exercise to weight loss, this new study points out that consumers should choose those apps carefully and, as CBS News puts it, “consider the potential risks when using them.”

What do you think about this new study? Are the rewards of health apps worth the risk to our privacy? We know these apps aren’t going away, so generating meaningful conversations around them is critical to our goal of one day making Arizona the Healthiest State in the Nation!

 

 

 

 

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