Is That Health App on Your Smartphone Compromising Your Privacy?


Privacy Rights ClearinghouseIf you want to do anything related to diet or exercise, there’s probably an app for that. Many of use free or paid apps on our smartphones to log our gym workouts, how much weight we’ve lost in the past week, or to help with fertility.

But how safe is it to post personal information on these apps?

Recently, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a pro-consumer privacy funded by the California Consumer Protection Foundations, released a study which looked at 43 popular health apps for smartphones and how safe they were in regards to privacy. The results were sobering.

Health Apps: Not so Healthy for Privacy

When consumers use health apps on their smartphones, they usually enter their name, email address, age, height, and weight. Sometimes they even enter certain pharmaceutical drugs and disorders they may be suffering from. This is private information that most of us would not want anyone else to know about.

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse found that only 40% of these apps had any sort of privacy policy at all. And only half of those sites that actually posted a privacy policy accurately described the mobile app’s technical processes.

Here’s some more information that they found:

  • Many of these health apps send private user data without any encryption to and from their servers, meaning that this data is completely exposed to anyone who has the tools to view it.
  • Many of these apps are connected to third-party analytic sites without the user’s knowledge.
  • Nearly 75% of the apps studied presented medium to high risk to user data, according to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

How You Can Protect Yourself

As a rule, it’s always a good idea to do some research on any mobile app you use. Be sure to visit their website and see if they have any privacy policies, and if so, take some time to see what safeguards they have for your personal data.

Also, are you comfortable with the level of information they are asking you to provide? You should assume that whatever information you provide to mobile apps may be seen by others.

Below are some additional tips you can take to make sure your data is being protected:

  • As a rule, paid apps generally have better safeguards for your privacy than free ones do.
  • Limit the personal information you provide, and be careful when sharing it on social networks or other places.
  • See if you can use the app without entering personal information, or as little personal information as possible.
  • When you stop using a mobile app, delete it. Be sure to also delete your personal profile and any data archives that’s been created with your personal information.

By taking these simple steps, you can still use mobile health apps while protecting your personal information.

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Jared Howe

Jared Howe is PRIVATE WiFi’s Senior Manager, Product Marketing Communications. Working in high tech for over 15 years, Jared currently lives in Seattle with his wife, daughter, and their two cats.

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