register

Digital & Innovation

Study finds serious problems with privacy in mobile health apps

Health Industry Hub | August 18, 2021 |
[Total: 2    Average: 4.5/5]

Digital & Innovation: A recent in-depth analysis of more than 20,000 health related mobile applications (mHealth apps) found serious problems and inconsistencies with consumer privacy.

The Australian researchers said the collection of personal user information is ‘a pervasive practice’ and that patients ‘should be informed on the privacy practices of these apps and the associated privacy risks before installation and use.’

Of the 2.8 million apps on Google Play and the 1.96 million apps on Apple Store, an estimated 99,366 belong to medical and health and fitness categories (known collectively as mobile health or mHealth apps).

They include the management of health conditions and symptom checking to step and calorie counters and menstruation trackers and often contain sensitive health information.

App developers routinely, and legally, share user data, but inadequate privacy disclosures have been repeatedly found for many mHealth apps, preventing users from making informed choices around the data.

To explore this further, researchers at Macquarie University identified more than 15,000 free mHealth apps in the Google Play store and compared their privacy practices with a random sample of more than 8,000 non-health apps.

They found that while mHealth apps collected less user data than other types of mobile apps, 88% could access and potentially share personal data.

For example, about two thirds could collect advert identifiers or cookies, one third could collect a user’s email address, and about a quarter could identify the mobile phone tower to which a user’s device is connected, potentially providing information on the user’s geolocation.

Only 4% of mHealth apps actually transmitted data (mostly user’s name and location information). However, the researchers noted this percentage is substantial and should be taken as a lower bound for the real data transmissions performed by the apps.

What’s more, 87.5% of data collection operations and 56% of user data transmissions were on behalf of third party services, such as external advertisers, analytics, and tracking providers, and 23% of user data transmissions occurred on insecure communication channels.

The top 50 third parties were responsible for most (68%) of the data collection operations, which most commonly were a small number of tech corporations, including Google, Facebook, and Yahoo!

The researchers also found that 28% (5,903) of the mHealth apps did not offer any privacy policy text, and at least 25% (15,480) of user data transmissions violated what was stated in the privacy policies. Yet only 1.3% (3,609) of user reviews raised concerns about privacy.

The researchers conclude “This analysis found serious problems with privacy and inconsistent privacy practices in mHealth apps. Clinicians should be aware of these and articulate them to patients when determining the benefits and risks of mHealth apps.”

This was a joint work with the following researchers from Optus Macquarie University Cyber Security Hub and the Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University:

  • Gioacchino Tangari – Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Optus Macquarie University Cyber Security Hub
  • Muhammad Ikram – Lecturer, Optus Macquarie University Cyber Security Hub
  • Kiran Ijaz – Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University
  • Mohamed Ali Kaafar – Professor, Optus Macquarie University Cyber Security Hub
  • Shlomo Berkovsky – Associate Professor, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University

News & Trends - Medical Technology

MedTech News -

Ellume and Novartis secure top 10 ranking in AFR Boss Most Innovative Companies List

Health Industry Hub | October 18, 2021 |

MedTech News: Ellume and Novartis have been recognised in the 2021 AFR BOSS top 10 innovations in the health industries […]

More


News & Trends - Medical Technology

Pharma News - ACCC wins interim injunction to halt Virtus acquiring Adora fertility clinics

ACCC wins interim injunction to halt Virtus acquiring Adora fertility clinics

Health Industry Hub | October 18, 2021 |

Pharma News: The ACCC has won an interim injunction blocking IVF provider Virtus Health from completing its purchase of rival Adora Fertility. The ACCC filed proceedings in […]

More


News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

Pharma News - Australia secures access to two new COVID treatments from Roche and Pfizer

Australia secures access to two new COVID treatments from Roche and Pfizer

Health Industry Hub | October 18, 2021 |

Pharma News: The Australian Government has secured access to two additional COVID-19 treatments to support the National Plan to Transition […]

More


News & Trends - Medical Technology

MedTech News - Private-public partnership facilitates Illawarra region’s first cardiac surgeries

Private-public partnership facilitates Illawarra region’s first cardiac surgeries

Health Industry Hub | October 18, 2021 |

MedTech News: After months of planning, negotiating, fitting out a new theatre and staging ‘dry runs’ of complex procedures, Wollongong […]

More