Health apps are enjoying a heyday of popularity. Track your steps, meals, water-consumption, exercise, heart rate, weight, sleep, etc… Pair your watch for automatic data collection. Scan UPC-codes on food packaging for the calories you take in, then scan the QR-code on the gym machine for the calories you burn. What’s not to like?
Such apps are popular to the point that iphones and Androids come preloaded with their own brands. Other health apps might be less about diet and fitness, but more about medication management and interfacing with your doctor and pharmacist. Request refills or schedule an appointment – perhaps even conduct one virtually. Pandemic-era distancing restrictions have increased the need for virtual connections to doctor’s offices and pharmacies.
“If the service is free, then you are the product.”
Variants of this phrase date back to 1970s television advertising. Folks wondered how they could be so lucky as to have high-quality network programming provided over the airwaves FOR FREE? A few generations later, we see the marketing model with less naivety. This is why Facebook has grown into the marketing behemoth it is today: they have enough personal data points on users to provide specifically targeted options for advertisers. The precision was previously unfathomed.
Such is the way of the world in the era of Big Data. Countless new bits of information about each one of us is being collected, sold, shared and leveraged. At the very least, the door is wide open for profit-driven manipulation. A slightly more acute reality is that it creates new opportunities for identity theft.
4 out of 5 health apps share your personal data.
A recent study looked at 24 of the most popular health and medication-related smartphone apps. They found that 19 of them (79%) were sharing data with outside parties that constituted a violation of privacy. Common types of data being shared were: user names, device names, location history, operating system version, web browsing behavior, medications, and email addresses.
In addition to selling your data to third parties, most of the transactions had no safe-guards in place to prevent buyers from further sharing your data with outside entities, termed “fourth parties.” Among these twice-removed owners of your personal data are digital ad firms, venture capital firms, and consumer credit agencies. This is common practice and the status quo. As the study’s author concluded, “There isn’t any privacy anymore.”
Protect yourself by educating yourself.
Experts suggest anyone using a health app should proceed with caution. Read the fine print and informed consent. Look into the settings in your smartphone. Does your app need to monitor your location when you aren’t using it? Is there any good reason for the app to be accessing the microphone? Either of these are good indicators that the app is spying on you.
Identity thieves know that each bit of information gained puts them one step closer to the big score. Name, email, and birthdate isn’t too far from a drained account or fraudulent loan taken out in your name. For many victims of identity theft crimes, the original breach is never discovered. How safeguarded is your data in the hands of a fourth party?
If your privacy has been violated, or if an interception of your personal data has left you overrun by fraud and crimes of identity theft, get help from The Law Offices of Jeffrey Lohman. Our team or consumer protection lawyers knows how to stop criminals and help you move forward with your life.