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Do Health Apps Know a Little Too Much About You? How to stay safe

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Cybersecurity is something we all take seriously, but  what about our beloved health apps and fitness wearables?

You may be surprised to find out that you don’t know where the lines are being drawn regarding your sensitive health information.  With health apps and fitness wearables being relatively new, we don’t know how it will affect us and our personal health information yet.  However, many people are beginning to understand why it’s important to keep a close eye on who is ending up with your information—before you turn your device on.

Perhaps it’s the most recent acquisition of FitBit by Google that has raised the personal security questions. And it’s not quite as simple as just being worried about Google having access to your sleep tracker, fitness logs, etc.—it’s because of the partnerships that Google has formed.  Google has partnered with a company called Ascension, a health system that is ranked as the second-largest in America.

It seems that Google is now finding ways of getting ahold of your most personal health information data, though Google will report that it is for developing services for medical providers based on AI.  If this worries you, you’re not alone; and unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there is much we can do about this.  HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) won’t protect us here, but it will limit how much information Google can use.

If the thought of your personal medical information going to a giant like Google is scary, you should also be aware that the information is personally identifiable—that is, it’s your medical information attached to your name.  It’s not anonymized when it’s sent via Ascension to Google, raising a lot of eyebrows at why Google would need to know your name and your medical history.  Some people worry that this is a sign that the information is going to be personally targeted back at the patient.

So what can you do to keep yourself protected?

  • FitBit

Unfortunately, once you’ve activated your FitBit, you don’t get to choose what data it stores and tracks.  It will collect all the data for all the categories unless you decide to remove the app.  But if you’re a diehard FitBit user and are looking for ways to protect yourself, consider doing some of the following steps:

You can control how much information your FitBit collects by managing what’s visible by tapping on your profile icon, selecting Privacy and choosing what information is visible on your profile.

You can also tap on Manage Data from your profile icon page, select Manage third-party-apps and delete any programs or institutions that have been linked to your FitBit who might have access to your fitness and health metrics.

And if you’re wary of all these measures actually protecting you, you can Delete your account which will delete all of your information from the FitBit database and its servers.

  • Apple Health Apps

Apple seems to be taking its users personal information seriously.  Any data that Apple Health is tracking is encrypted from your device up to their servers.  For further protection, Apple uses two-factor authentication which means that if this is turned on with your device, the health logs are not visible to Apple itself.

However, Apple does partner up with different companies, so you should check which companies are linked by selecting your profile icon, select Apps, and look under Privacy.

There are two types of permissions:  read (meaning the app takes information from Apple Health) and write (meaning the app can also make additions to Apple Health with the data).  Apple Health gives you the choice of disabling individual permissions; disconnecting the app from Apple Health; or finally, deleting every piece of data the app has gathered.

If you’d like to delete all the information Apple Health has collected from your devices, select Devices under the App menu, and you can delete specific records or all the information entirely.

One last thing to consider is that, like FitBit, once it’s turned on you can’t pick and choose what information is collected, but it is possible to keep the sensors on your phone invisible to Apple Health.  Select Privacy, tap on Motion & Fitness, find Fitness Tracking, and turn the option off.

  • Google Fit

You can see the information that Google Fit has collected from your device by simply opening the app on your device.  From there, you can check your Profile, select the settings cog, and then choose whether you want to keep activity tracking and location tracking by adjusting the buttons.

You can erase all of the data about your health and fitness Google Fit has acquired through your device by visiting the Manage Data section.  It is broken down into categories so you can choose to delete individual categories, or you can use the Clear all data button to delete all the information.

Like the other 2 health and fitness device companies above, it’s worth taking some time to see what other business entities have attached themselves to Google Fit and who can potentially see your information.  Under Settings, tap Manage connected apps.  This will show you every app that is allowed to work with Google Fit.  You can choose the Disconnect button to disconnect these apps.

While there is a cause for alarm, you can make proactive steps to keeping your information as guarded as possible—and at least provide a precedence that makes it known you didn’t want your information leaked, should that occur.

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