“Our data highlight that, without sustained and technical efforts to audit actual data transmissions, relying solely on either self-certification or policy audit may fail to detect important privacy risks,” authors of the study wrote. “The emergence of a services landscape in which a small number of commercial entities broker data for large numbers of health apps underlines both the dynamic nature of app privacy issues and the need for continuing technical surveillance for novel privacy risks if users and health care professionals are to be offered timely and reliable guidance."
HOW IT WAS DONE
Between April and June of 2018, researchers focused on 36 of the “top-ranked” smoking cessation. They then did a “technical assessment of encrypted and unencrypted data transmission.”
WHAT'S THE BACKGROUND
Mental health apps are increasingly being used to address the shortage of trained mental health professionals. However, the business model for these apps vary.
Researchers noted that many apps are still incorporating data sharing into their business model, but users are often not informed of the usage.
But mental and behavioral health apps aren’t alone. The authors of the study pointed to past research that found dementia and diabetes apps also had a high proportion of data selling.
“This tension between personal privacy and data capture by health care apps is largely driven by the business models of these apps,” authors of the study wrote. “Because many national health payers and insurance companies do not yet cover apps (given their often nascent evidence base), selling either subscriptions or users’ personal data is often the only path toward sustainability.”
“Health care professionals prescribing apps should not rely on disclosures about data sharing in health app privacy policies but should reasonably assume that data will be shared with commercial entities whose own privacy practices have been questioned and, if possible, should consider only apps with data transmission behaviors that have been subject to direct scrutiny,” the researchers wrote.