Recently, MobiHealthNews wrote about the number of fitness app installs expected to grow to 248 million in 2017 from 156 million in 2012, a 60 percent rise. While more consumers are downloading health apps, one research firm suggests app users should be cautious about what personal information they're volunteering when they use those apps.
This week, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse released a study funded by the California Consumer Protection Foundation addressing the privacy risks of mobile health and fitness apps. The study analyzed privacy policies from December 2012 to June 2013 for 43 apps from the top 200 lists of Apple and Android app stores; 23 were free and 20 were paid.
The health and fitness apps in the report included mood apps, diabetes management apps, prescription medication shopping apps and pregnancy apps. All apps' privacy settings were analyzed from two vantage points, a consumer's perspective and technical perspective.
The report's authors identify their strong bias in favor of personal privacy, but do not intend to persuade consumers not to use the applications. Rather the company intends to give consumers more information about what data apps collect and what they do with it.
"What we recommend is that users should just assume at the outset that in using a mobile application, everything they enter, both personal information and usage information, is going to the developer and also very likely to a number of unidentified third parties," Project Manager Linda Ackerman said in a webinar about the report. "So use cautiously and just be aware of your own comfort level about sharing the kind of information that an app is asking you to enter."
"If you are concerned about privacy, particularly avoid applications with embedded advertising and use only paid applications," Ackerman said. "If you can, some applications let you test the app first without entering PII, your personally identifiable information, so if you have that option you can try the app out and see how it feels to your first."
Due to price constraints, the Clearinghouse only analyzed paid apps that ranged from $1.50 to $20 and didn't include apps that required additional measuring devices like pedometers, weight scales or glucose meters.