Report: Apps to Help Fight Depression and Quit Smoking Sell User Data to Facebook, Google

The Associated Press
Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

According to a recent study, health apps aimed at helping users quit smoking and beat depression are selling user data to the Masters of the Universe at Facebook and Google.

The Denver Post reports that a recent study published in the journal JAMA Network Open this month alleges that a number of health apps that claim to help users deal with issues such as nicotine addiction and depression are, in fact, selling user data to tech giants such as Facebook and Google.

John Torous, a co-author of the report and head of the digital psychiatry division at a Harvard Medical School-affiliated teaching hospital, commented on the report stating: “Digital data doesn’t go away. A part of the risk is that we don’t fully know who is going to put this data together, when and where it’s going to show up again and in what context. … Data seems to end up in the hands of the wrong people more and more.”

According to Torous, there needs to be a “wake-up call” in the field of digital health because, “We can’t treat people’s personal data like it’s the personal property of these app developers.”

The study investigated three dozen health apps which were aimed at smokers and those that suffer from depression. The study claims that of these apps, only one-third of them accurately informed users that their data would be shared with third-parties. Only 11 of the 36 apps tracked by researchers had a privacy policy; of the 25 apps without a privacy policy all but two specifically stated that users data would be shared with third-parties, but it was determined that at least 33 of the 36 apps actually shared users data.

Although the apps didn’t specifically transmit data containing the identities of their users, the information provided did include details “that can begin the process of re-identification,” according to Torous. He asked that if this information was to be sent to a company such as Facebook Analytics, “Who is putting this all together and who gets to access this?”

Torous notes that the apps’ lack of disclosure is one of the biggest issues stating: “We’ve seen enough stories that … there’s value in (the data), or else the app makers wouldn’t be sending them off. And the bigger point is that (the apps) weren’t even disclosing it.”

The FDA, along with a number of other groups, is reportedly working on developing methods to make health apps more secure. Given the results of this study, that would appear to be a very positive thing.

Read more about the study here.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or email him at lnolan@breitbart.com

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