How health tracking apps, smart watches are selling sensitive data

Sep 25, 2023, 2:52 PM | Updated: 8:48 pm

health data apps...

The Fitbit Sense health smartwatch lies on display at the Fitbit stand at the IFA 2020 Special Edition consumer electronics and appliances trade fair on September 3, 2020 in Berlin. (Photo: Sean Gallup, Getty Images)

(Photo: Sean Gallup, Getty Images)

Earlier this month, a report was released about modern cars invading consumers’ privacy and selling data. Health-tracking apps are doing the same thing.

According to Herb Weisbaum, the Consumer Man with, “wearable devices can track heart rates, blood pressure, glucose levels, sleep patterns or menstrual cycles,” and this information is being sold to companies.

Companies are allowed to use this information to market to you or share and sell your information to profit. Companies can do this because the industry is unregulated, according to Weisbaum.

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The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prevents doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, dentists and other health care professionals from sharing your information, but data collected from your smartwatch is fair game.

“When you wear a smartwatch, and it’s collecting your menstrual cycle, or your heart rate or whatever, you don’t assume that this kind of information will ever get back into the hands of an insurance company or your employer will be able to see this,” Weisbaum said. “You assume it’s between you and the maker of the device. Well, it may not be because they’re not regulated by HIPAA as your doctors, pharmacists and dentists are.  They’re not regulated at all.”

HIPAA generally does not cover the following:

  • Data collected from searches done on a phone or web browser
  • Information provided to a website or app not affiliated with a medical provider.
  • Health data generated by smartphones, smartwatches and other wearable tech, or internet-connected medical devices, unless that technology is provided by an entity covered by HIPAA for treatment purposes.

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Here’s when consumers’ medical information gets shared, according to Weisbaum: When users get a prescription and look for a coupon online, that is when companies can take the data. From there, ads on social media platforms target you and your health.

“There really isn’t a lot you can do at this point in time except be careful about the really highly sensitive information that you’re sharing, especially with apps, they are notorious, and websites are notorious for sharing this information,” Weisbaum said.

Currently, the U.S. has very few federal laws to protect consumers when it comes to buying and selling data because their information is big business.

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How health tracking apps, smart watches are selling sensitive data