Mobile health apps lag in easy access to privacy policies

Healthcare and fitness app developers are lagging when it comes to providing users a privacy policy and quick access to such information.

Currently 71 percent of top apps, across the iOS App Store and Google Play, offer a link to a privacy policy directly from a store description, yet only 61 percent of healthcare apps do the same, according to a new Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) Mobile Apps study.

“Given that some health and fitness apps can access sensitive, physiological data collected by sensors on a mobile phone, wearable, or other device, their below-average performance is both unexpected and troubling,” state the report's authors, who also note that more free apps, compared to paid apps, provide a privacy policy.

“It is important that consumers be able to understand what data is collected by these apps, as well as how it is collected, used, protected, and shared,” the authors say.

App developers play a big role in making that happen, according to FPF’s guideline, “Best Practices for Consumer Wearables & Wellness Apps & Devices.” For example, the guideline says, app developers should provide users a range of options when it comes to sharing data, including an opt-in for third-party sharing, as well as access, correction and deletion rights regarding data collected.

“Given the potential benefits that wearables and consumer-generated wellness data may provide to consumers and society, it is important that this data be subject to privacy controls and be used responsibly,” notes the guideline.

Such concerns are top of mind with two healthcare leaders who are calling for action to “break open” how data can be collected and used and putting the consumer in a proactive role regarding healthcare information. John T. Wilbanks, M.D., chief commons officer at Sage Bionetworks, and Eric Topol, a cardiologist and director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, write in a recent commentary at Nature that consumers need access to their data and control over data sharing to avoid potential digital profiling.

For more information:
- read the FPF Mobile Apps study
- read the best practices guideline