Health and fitness apps are often called “wellness apps” and benefit the user in a variety of ways. They are not intended in any way to be used in place of medical treatment by a medical professional but they include diet and exercise programs designed to improve an individual’s health in some way. Some apps are simply informational and others are interactive. It is becoming easier to find the privacy policy in the app but many still do not have them.

What are risks for consumers who use mobile health and fitness apps?

There are several privacy risks that can be present when consumers are using wellness apps. Some of them are very general while others are specific risks. Some of the basic privacy concerns about using health related apps include:

  • Mobile Health Apps Contain Tracking Tools
  • Mobile apps are still unregulated
  • Wellness apps collect a large amount of personal information
  • Mobile apps (usually downloaded for free) use advertising to make money
  • Most mobile apps have very poor security features

Each of these are cause for concern when it comes to an individual’s privacy.

What types of information do Fitness Apps Collect?

Fitness apps collect a large amount of information from a person when setting up an account. The typical wellness app will ask for name, age, height, gender, weight and usually ask you to add a photo of yourself. The apps usually ask for quite a bit of lifestyle information too such as your exercise and food consumption habits. By using the app, you are automatically creating a record and this information is not protected by any regulatory agency at this time.

What level of security do mobile apps have?

Mobile apps have very little security. They have privacy policies that state they protect a user’s privacy and their confidentiality, but usually information is transmitted unencrypted over insecure connections. They can transmit information you have searched for that you prefer to be kept confidential such as STDs or anti-psychotic drugs. This information is open and viewable by anyone on the network.

So what if they depend on advertising to make money!

Mobile apps often share information about users that is personally identifiable. They want to give this information to advertisers so that they can track you. This allows them to target you with ads that might be of specific interest to you.