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Mobile health and fitness apps pose privacy risks
- By Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter
Mobile health apps for your smartphone can help you recognize and manage health problems, provide nutrition advice, and count the number of steps you walk. But most aren’t doing enough to protect your private information, according to a study published online June 16, 2021, by The BMJ.
Among millions of available apps (of any kind), researchers estimated that about 99,000 focus on health and fitness. Researchers downloaded almost 16,000 free mobile health apps and picked through their programming to see how the apps managed personal data (such as names, contact information, type of phone, and geographic location). Most of the apps (88%) had the potential ability to share personal data (with Google and Facebook, for example). In brief tests, at least 4% of the apps collected and transmitted personal data, though researchers suspect this percentage could be much higher in real-world use. About a third of the apps didn’t provide access to their privacy policies, and a quarter violated their own policies.
What that means for you: take the time to find out how an app might handle — or mishandle — your personal information before you start using it. Look for those details in an app’s description, listed under "about this app" or "app permissions."
Image: Nastasic/Getty Images
About the Author
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter
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No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
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