FTC: Health, fitness apps share user info with vendors

A Federal Trade Commission study revealed mobile health and fitness applications are sharing user data with third-party vendors. The data includes device use information, as well as personal health and fitness insight, according to Threat Post.

The study focused on data sharing in relation to 12 mobile apps. Data was determined to be shared with 76 third-party vendors. One app maker is sending data to an ad company; other are getting detailed insight on consumer sleep patterns, exercise insight such as running routes, eating habits and even how an app user walks or runs.

The study involved two daily activity apps on wearables, two dietary and two exercise apps, meal apps and three system apps.

Jah-Juin Ho, a FTC attorney in the agency's Mobile Technology Unit, discussed the study and results during a recent seminar focused on consumer health data and privacy.

"Consumers reveal significant amounts of information about themselves when they use health and fitness apps," he said.

News about sharing data gleaned from mHealth apps comes as consumers are hungry for new fitness and wellness apps, with one report predicting that such apps will become more ubiquitous in 2014. While consumers are embracing the new mHealth technology, lawmakers are concerned about data privacy and examining potential new rules for mobile health devices that may be serving as medical equipment devices.

It also arrives on the heels of a new study that says consumers are willing to share such data, especially on an anonymous basis.

Ho, in his presentation, said that the third parties receiving mHealth data are getting specifics about users' physical attributes, traits and metrics. They also are gaining insight on devices being used for mHealth needs, including model, language used and screen size.

Eighteen of the 76 apps were collecting specific device data, such as phone's unique device identifier, media access control address and its international mobile station equipment identity.

Ho said names, usernames and email addresses also are being shared, as well as medical symptom searches, gender, diet habits, exercise activity, zip codes and geo-location.

For more information:
- read the article
- read the presentation transcript (.pdf)