Information tracked by health apps could be used against you if companies mishandle it

FTC trying to increase accountability for companies gathering health information
Fraud experts: Information tracked by health apps could be used against you
Posted at 5:00 AM, Oct 22, 2021
and last updated 2022-02-22 18:23:12-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — Technology now plays a big role in helping us to plan and track our health and wellness. News5 takes a look at why fraud and consumer experts want us to be careful if we're using smartphone apps or devices that collect our health information.

The technology available through health apps right in the palm of our hands are helping people manage diabetes, their heart health, fertility, and even their sleep patterns, but in the process these apps collect lots of sensitive and personal information that could be valuable to marketing companies and fraudsters.

"On the app store the security is either very low, or nonexistent," said CSU Global fraud expert Dr. Fraud J. Michael Skiba.

So if you're looking for a smartphone app to help track your next workout or any aspect of your health, fraud experts say it's important to understand why the information you're sharing matters.

"It could be your heart information, your doctor's information, your calorie counters, whatever it might be it's releasing a lot of very sensitive information into the world and that can be used against you," said Skiba.

The Federal Trade Commission is concerned enough that it put out an alert recently saying...

"Health apps and other connected devices that collect personal health data are not only mainstream—and have increased in use during the pandemic—but are targets ripe for scammers and other cyber hacks. Yet, there are still too few privacy protections for these apps."

"Let's say they have this information on you. They contact you back by robocall or robotext and they add legitimacy," said Skiba.

Federal officials are working to increase accountability for tech firms that abuse our sensitive health information, where companies can use this data to feed behavioral ads or power user analytics.

If you are going to download and use a health app...

Here are some safety tips from Dr. Fraud:

- Read reviews thoroughly

- Determine if designer or sponsor of app is a company you trust

- If app doesn't have a large number of downloads and users it could be a red flag

Dr. Fraud warns people not to forget about apps that were never deleted, or still may be running in the background on your device, tracking you and your information.

"Look at your settings and make sure it's deleted out of all those little intricate areas where it could still be resting," said Skiba. "A lot of people think too just because they take it off their home page it's actually deleted from their system and that's not actually true. They might have just deleted an icon."

A new federal rule now requires any health app that collects your information to notify you if your health information has been compromised in a data breach. If companies don't follow through they'll be subject to large fines.