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Assessment of the Data Sharing and Privacy Practices of Smartphone Apps for Depression and Smoking Cessation

Assessment of the Data Sharing and Privacy Practices of Smartphone Apps for Depression and Smoking Cessation

An article from the JAMA Open Network

Summary from the Article in JAMA:

Importance  Inadequate privacy disclosures have repeatedly been identified by cross-sectional surveys of health applications (apps), including apps for mental health and behavior change. However, few studies have assessed directly the correspondence between privacy disclosures and how apps handle personal data. Understanding the scope of this discrepancy is particularly important in mental health, given enhanced privacy concerns relating to stigma and negative impacts of inadvertent disclosure. Because most health apps fall outside government regulation, up-to-date technical scrutiny is essential for informed decision making by consumers and health care professionals wishing to prescribe health apps."

Findings  In this cross-sectional study of 36 top-ranked apps for depression and smoking cessation available in public app stores, 29 transmitted data to services provided by Facebook or Google, but only 12 accurately disclosed this in a privacy policy.

Meaning  Health care professionals prescribing apps should not rely on disclosures about data sharing in health app privacy policies but should reasonably assume that data will be shared with commercial entities whose own privacy practices have been questioned and, if possible, should consider only apps with data transmission behaviors that have been subject to direct scrutiny.

 

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