Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill, speaking in Washington last week, expressed concern about the way apps on smartphones and mobile devices are siphoning sensitive health data, and how some of that information may then be shared with third parties.
Based on a recent study of data-sharing related to 12 mobile health and fitness apps, it was discovered that developers were sharing consumer health information with 76 different parties, including marketers.
Reuters recently covered the FTC warning.
“After a panel discussion hosted by U.S. political site The Hill, Brill told Reuters that many companies now prefer to focus on how data is used, because that is where “the rubber hits the road when it comes to patient harm,” says the story.
One potential improvement “Developers should give consumers more tools and ‘robust choice mechanisms’ before any sensitive data is collected and stored.”
“We don’t know where that information ultimately goes,” Brill told the panel. “It makes consumers uncomfortable.”
Brill said she has also has put pressure on Congress to pass laws prohibiting the collection of personal information under false pretenses.
This debate won’t go away soon.
The gathering of consumer data is growing as Silicon Valley tech companies get more involved in mobile health. Both Apple and Google have revealed new health-focused services for apps developers in recent months (Google Fit and HealthKit).
More should be done, and soon, according to Brill, who underscored that right now “no one is talking about new regulations.”
But some tech groups, like the Association for Competitive Technology, believe that innovation could be curtailed if information collection was nipped.
“The mobile health industry needs to educate the FTC about why collecting health data can provide better health outcomes,” says Morgan Reed, a member of the group. “If we fail to do this, the commission could take action that would devastate app developers.”