Report: FTC, Apple discuss Apple Watch and health data privacy

By Aditi Pai
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Apple Watch Sport sensorssThe Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reached out to Apple to confirm that the health data collected by Apple's smartwatch, called Apple Watch, will not be sold to third parties, according to a report from Reuters.

Reuters explains that in the past few months, Apple representatives have met with FTC officials on multiple occasions to discuss the privacy issues surrounding the Apple Watch.

Apple's smartwatch, which was announced in early September, tracks movement through a built-in accelerometer and heart rate through optical sensors in the back of the device. Apple's platform for health data, called HealthKit, helps developers share and integrate several other important metrics, including heart rate, weight, blood pressure, and nutrition.

Since Apple announced its smartwatch, companion app Health, and HealthKit platform Apple has made a few moves to keep the health data it collects private. 

In September, Apple modified its iOS developer license agreement, its rules for developers that create apps for its devices, to ban developers from selling health data integrated from HealthKit. At the time, the company wrote that developers must “not sell an end-user’s health information collected through the HealthKit API to advertising platforms, data brokers or information resellers”. The agreement further required that developers not use HealthKit’s API or the information collected from it “for any purpose other than providing health and/or fitness services”.

Shortly after Apple made changes to the developer license agreement, Apple also banned HealthKit developers from storing users’ health information in iCloud. The company added eight ground rules for HealthKit developers including: Apps that write false or inaccurate data into HealthKit will be rejected, apps using the HealthKit framework that store users’ health information in iCloud will be rejected, and apps that share user data acquired via the HealthKit API with third parties without user consent will be rejected.

While digital health app and device developers have been discussing privacy issues for several years now, recently some companies have made a greater effort to discuss privacy with government officials.

A few months ago, Fitbit hired a lobbyist firm to represent its interests on the Hill. According to the official lobbyist registration form, Heather Podesta + Partners will help Fitbit “educate lawmakers regarding health and fitness devices”. The form also listed two general issues of interest to Fitbit: health care issues and consumer issues around safety and protection.

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