Health

Does your mobile health app sell your health information?

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Recently, I was interviewed by Consumer Reports about the ever-growing concern of medical apps and their privacy implications. This is an extraordinary issue growing rampantly under the radar. Watch the short segment below, then continue reading to learn how to better secure your privacy and health information.

Do you use health or medical apps to keep yourself organized and in tip-top shape? There’s something you should know…

Nothing is handier at the doctor’s office than opening a phone app to easily access your last appointment, family history, medications, bill payments and other vitals to help you fill out paperwork. Everything you need, all in one place. That said, what if all of your information were suddenly made public? Online? To parties particularly interested in your deets, like say insurance companies, potential employers, prestigious schools, clubs and marketers? Depending on the health app, you may be blindly agreeing to sharing your personal information publicly in exchange for downloading your “free” app.

Yikes. So how do you know if your information is safe?


First, understand how mobile apps make money. Some apps are free because they sell your information to third parties. Others, charge up front when you download the app. They can also charge in-app fees for premium features, or offer you a paid monthly subscription for tools and services so you can get the most from your app on an ongoing basis. This typically requires setting up a log in and password which then connects and continuously updates all of your information on the app’s online server. Let’s face it, they’re making money off of your information somehow—it’s important to understand how.

Start by thoroughly reading the app’s privacy agreement to understand what is being collected and shared. You can find that listed in the app store before downloading it by scrolling to the bottom where it says Privacy. Companies are required to tell you exactly what they’re up to. Typically, the more complicated the agreement, or “jargony” it seems, the more likely they are selling your information. WebMD is straight up about sharing your data. Fitbit seems to be trustworthy. Whereas others get ALL-CAP shouty, verbose, or downright confusing. Those are the red flags to avoid.

WebMD

“Except where noted, statements in this Privacy Policy with respect to the WebMD Sites also apply to the Apps. If you do not want us to collect, use or disclose information about you and your use of the Services as described in this Privacy Policy, then you should not use the Services.”

Fitbit

WE PLEDGE TO RESPECT YOUR PRIVACY. We believe in being transparent about our data practices. We work hard to keep your data safe. We give you settings to control how your information is shared, and we only ask you for your information so we can provide you with great products. Our business is to sell products you believe in. We never sell your personal data. We make data work for you so you can live a healthier, more active life.

MyMedical

“IF YOU DO NOT AGREE TO BE BOUND TO EACH AND EVERY TERM AND CONDITION SET FORTH HEREIN, PLEASE EXIT THE LICENSED APPLICATION IMMEDIATELY AND DO NOT USE, ACCESS AND/OR BROWSE THE LICENSED APPLICATION. BY ENTERING THE LICENSED APPLICATION, YOU ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT YOU HAVE READ AND UNDERSTAND THESE TERMS AND CONDITIONS, THAT THE PROVISIONS, DISCLOSURES AND DISCLAIMERS SET FORTH HEREIN ARE FAIR AND REASONABLE, AND THAT YOUR AGREEMENT TO FOLLOW AND BE BOUND BY THESE TERMS AND CONDITIONS IS VOLUNTARY AND IS NOT THE RESULT OF FRAUD, DURESS OR UNDUE INFLUENCE EXERCISED UPON YOU BY ANY PERSON OR ENTITY.”

Can you be discriminated against based on your medical findings?

The short answer is “Yes.” Insurance companies for one, are constantly scanning for your medical data, prescriptions, health habits and pre-existing conditions. These directly affect your rate. And while employers, institutions, sports teams, camps and so forth may not be able to legally discriminate against you based on your health findings—all things being equal between you and another candidate, it could sway the decision based on who is less of a medical risk or cheaper to insure.

Are you using health trackers or medical apps on you mobile device? Is it password protected? How do you digitally keep track of your family’s health information? We’d love to hear in the comments below.

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  • If you want more info on this topic, Google Epic Systems Corporation. They claim to represent 54% of US patients and 2.5% of worldwide patients as of 2015. Chances are when your hospital suggests that you use their app or portal to get your test results and manage your appointments and contact with your physicians, you are using Epic software.

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