5 On Your Side

Make sure your health apps don't invade your privacy

Posted October 17, 2019 6:44 a.m. EDT

— Health apps can help people track their sleep habits, log their workouts and focus on preventative care, among other things. With any health related app, it's important to take steps to safeguard your personal information.

Maureen Tsushida uses an app that tracks her family’s medical profiles.

“I put everything from blood work to immunization records, to medication, to eyeglasses, to checkups," Tsushida said. "I’ve really become very dependent on it.”

Since Tsushida knows that even the most secure apps can be compromised, she stores medical data only on her phone -- not on a remote server.

Make sure your health apps don't invade your privacy

According to Consumer Reports, when it comes to privacy, medical apps follow different rules from doctors and hospitals. Before you sign up, notice whether the app asks you to access your contacts or photos. Do the terms of service allow the app to share your data with third parties?

“If the answer to those questions is yes, we recommend taking a good hard look before deciding whether to hand over your data or not," said Bree Fowler, a health editor with Consumer Reports. "We’re concerned that if your personal data gets out there it could ultimately lead to workplace discrimination.”

Another flag, Consumer Reports cautions, is free apps.

“They’re probably selling your personal data," Fowler said. "After all, they have to make money one way or the other.”

Free is never really free, especially when it comes to apps, experts say. In those cases, absolutely examine the terms of service on the app and figure out exactly where your data is going.

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