A new study has pointed out the risks involved in putting sensitive health information into medical apps.
While the method is practical and convenient, using your smartphone to keep track of your medication or to look up symptoms of a certain mystery illness isn't all that safe as some apps collect data and aren't upfront about what happens to your info or who it is shared with.
Per a story from Gizmodo, researchers from Canada, the US and Australia teamed up for a study and tested 24 popular health-related apps used by patients and doctors in the three countries on an Android smartphone. Apps such as Medscape, Ada and the Drugs.com portal were put through the test, as well as other apps that remind users to take their meds.
The research team created four fake profiles to use each app as intended and establish a baseline for network traffic. Each of the apps was used 14 times with the same information but user info was subtly changed for a 15th use to determine whether there would be differences in the network traffic as that would indicate that data obtained by the app was being shared with third parties.
It was discovered that 79 percent of the apps, inclusive of the three aforementioned, shared at least some user data outside of the app itself.
Some apps used the sharing of data to improve its functions such as maintaining a cloud or handling error reports. But others simply use it to create tailored ads for other companies, with some of those companies having nothing to do with the health sector.
There was no evidence of anything illegal being done, however.
“The big issue here is that we didn’t find anything that was illegal. And these data-sharing practices are highly routine,” lead author Quinn Grundy said to Gizmodo. “But if you look at surveys, people feel that our health data is particularly sensitive and personal, and should therefore be protected.”
It was also discovered that while certain apps do inform users of a potential data-sharing policy, there's hardly any indication as to where the data might end up.
So if you're going to use one of the many available health apps, try to find out as much as you can about it before inputting sensitive data. Sifting through terms and conditions could be pretty annoying and it's no wonder that people just skip that part most of the time, but when it comes to your health info, some patience won't go amiss.