According to a recent report from mHealthWatch, fitness apps continue to rank among the biggest threats – either real or perceived – to user privacy.
As many fitness app developers continue to look for ways to link their tracking capabilities to users’ health conditions, many concerns for user privacy naturally arise.
While general and anonymous dietary and fitness habits may not be something that a typical individual will protest against being shared with others, the data these habits generate are of interest to many.
Aside from basic diet and exercise, many fitness apps track vital signs, gender, age, height and weight—the perfect information needed to successfully target users with an assortment of products and services.
The TOS of each fitness app varies, but users must check back frequently for changes and updates to privacy related amendments. An excellent example is the fitness app Moves. Originally their TOS stated that they would not share any user data with a third party, but it has now been revised to read as follows: “We may share information, including personally identifying information, with our affiliates.”
The thing to keep in mind is that apps are always looking for ways to monetize, which means that selling user data can be a lucrative source of income.
Although the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission regulate apps to some degree, they play a minimal role in the grand scheme of things. The challenge is that the data provided is 100% defined by the users of the apps in question, so some may argue that they should not share what they do not want passed along.
Even the Executive Director of Patient Privacy Rights Deborah Peel has mixed thoughts on the matter. On one hand, she sees health and fitness apps as being “the most valuable information in the digital age, bar none” when speaking of its potential for improved health. On the other hand, Peel finds that these apps have the potential to be a “privacy nightmare.”
Bottom-line—users must read the TOS of all health and fitness apps and shy away from apps that share information they prefer to keep private.