Consumer Reports: Privacy issues with health-related apps

Relying on smartphone apps for health related issues is almost a matter of course these days, from step trackers to weight loss programs, even those that help you remember to take your medication.

But there are privacy issues to consider when using them. Consumer Reports says there are things to look for to better safeguard your personal information.

Maureen Tsuchida uses numerous health apps including My Medical to keep track of her family's medical profiles.

"I put everything from blood work to immunization records, to medication, to eyeglasses, to checkups. I've really become very dependent on it," she said.

And as a tech blogger, Tsuchida knows even the most secure apps can be compromised, so she's careful to make sure she's storing her family medical data only on her phone, not on a remote server.

"For certain medical apps, I make sure that it's not being backed up somewhere else," she said.

But she's still afraid her personal information could be made public and Consumer Reports said she's right to be concerned.

"By law, doctors and hospitals have to protect your information and keep it private, but the same rules don't necessarily apply to health apps," explained Bree Fowler, Tech Editor for Consumer Reports.

CR said ask the following: Is the app asking for permission to access your contacts or photos? Do the terms of service allow it to share your data with third parties?

"If the answer to those questions is yes, we recommend taking a good hard look before deciding whether to hand over your data or not. We're concerned that if your personal data gets out there it could ultimately lead to workplace discrimination," said Fowler.

It could also affect whether you can get insurance or how much you'll pay. Another red flag are free apps.

"They're probably selling your personal data. After all, they have to make money one way or the other," said Fowler.

Consumer Reports also said to check the terms of service of the app, and whether the app is asking for permission to access your contacts or photos or allows it to share your data with third parties.
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