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A recent study showed that mobile health applications are putting users’ privacy at risk by sharing user information outside the applications.
Researchers from the University of Sydney, the University of Toronto, and the University of California teamed up to determine how Android health apps process and share data. The researchers also identified the risks of having users’ private and sensitive health information leaked.
Out of the 24 mobile health apps studied, 19 turned out to distribute private user data to outside sources. Some of the personal information shared were users’ e-mails, health conditions, and drug prescriptions.
Some sites that received the biggest amount of information include Amazon, Microsoft, and Google’s parent company, Alphabet.
Based on the study’s findings, developers of mobile apps regularly and legally share user information with third parties such as social networking sites. However, researchers are concerned about the developers’ lack of transparency when it comes to third-party sharing of users’ information and their failure to assure users’ privacy when using health apps.
Consequently, authors warned that private data shared with third-party sources could be exploited by organizations that target users for advertising or credit ratings. These activities could make the apps more vulnerable to security breaches.
The researchers thus advised doctors to be mindful of the possible privacy issues of using mobile health apps. They urged doctors to explain to patients possible security-related concerns that come with the apps’ terms.
In addition, the researchers encouraged mobile health app developers to divulge all data sharing processes and allow users to decide what data to share and where to share them.