Experts: Some health, fitness apps sharing private information with third parties


Avid biker Matt DeMargel pedaled his way to losing 30 pounds and credits health and fitness apps for his transformation.

"The apps have been very critical in helping me achieve my goals," DeMargel said.

DeMargel enters his height, weight, everything he eats, and how much he exercises into one app.

But is someone else watching his progress? As this research by Evidon, a privacy technology company, found many popular health, wellness and fitness apps share your data with third parties.

"I've made a choice that being that this was going to help me from a health perspective, that I would take the privacy risk," DeMargel said.

If apps are used to transmit information to your doctor, pharmacy or any health care plan or provider, that data is confidential, protected under strict federal health information privacy laws. But if HIPAA doesn't apply, then it's up to each app to disclose its privacy policy. This study, by privacy rights clearinghouse, reveals more than a third of apps it reviewed sent data to parties it didn't disclose.

"I think that's troubling. In the health and fitness context, where consumers are used to thinking about sharing their information in the traditional provider context, I think they might be surprised about the collection of information that's happening," said Cora Tung Han with the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC warns app providers need to let users know exactly who's watching their every ride, tracking their pregnancy or their blood pressure.

"We do look at whether or not apps are honoring what they say in their privacy policies, and also whether or not they are living up to what they say to consumers in the app itself about what they're doing with their information," Tung Han said.

The Application Developer's Alliance says it encourages app makers to be upfront about data collection. And the organization was quite up front: admitting targeted ads are a significant reason for sharing info and a significant source of revenue in the industry.

DeMargel says despite the risk of data sharing and unclear privacy policies, he's not putting the brakes on his beloved apps anytime soon.

"I just make sure if it's out there it's something I'm comfortable with the whole world knowing," he said.

Some other privacy tips: If you can find an apps policy be sure to read it carefully and make sure you feel comfortable with it. The FTC is recommending app developers offer a "do not track" program similar to the one that exists for web browsing.

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