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Stare Into The Lights My Pretties > News Articles > ‘They’re Basically Lying’ – Mental Health Apps Caught Secretly Sharing Data

‘They’re Basically Lying’ – Mental Health Apps Caught Secretly Sharing Data

“Free apps marketed to people with depression or who want to quit smoking are hemorrhaging user data to third parties like Facebook and Google — but often don’t admit it in their privacy policies, a new study reports…” writes The Verge.

“You don’t have to be a user of Facebook’s or Google’s services for them to have enough breadcrumbs to ID you,” warns Slashdot schwit1. From the article:
By intercepting the data transmissions, they discovered that 92 percent of the 36 apps shared the data with at least one third party — mostly Facebook- and Google-run services that help with marketing, advertising, or data analytics. (Facebook and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.) But about half of those apps didn’t disclose that third-party data sharing, for a few different reasons: nine apps didn’t have a privacy policy at all; five apps did but didn’t say the data would be shared this way; and three apps actively said that this kind of data sharing wouldn’t happen. Those last three are the ones that stood out to Steven Chan, a physician at Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, who has collaborated with Torous in the past but wasn’t involved in the new study. “They’re basically lying,” he says of the apps.

Part of the problem is the business model for free apps, the study authors write: since insurance might not pay for an app that helps users quit smoking, for example, the only ways for free app developer to stay afloat is to either sell subscriptions or sell data. And if that app is branded as a wellness tool, the developers can skirt laws intended to keep medical information private.

A few apps even shared what The Verge calls “very sensitive information” like self reports about substance use and user names.