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Mental health applications geared towards helping people with addiction and depression are harvesting potentially sensitive user information with little disclosure according to a new study.
In the analysis researchers surveyed 36 of the top-ranked apps for smoking cessation and depression to figure out whether privacy policies adequately conveyed when and how user information would be transmitted to third parties.
Results - Practice - Data - Collection - Opaque
The results, they say, show a practice of data collection that is both frequent and opaque.
While 81 percent of the apps studied by researchers regularly collected and transmitted data to commercial entities like Google and Facebook, only 12 percent communicated their practices to users through privacy agreements.
Attempts - Data - Researchers - Levels - Information
Despite attempts to anonymize data, researchers say the levels of uniquely identifiable information transmitted by each app varied.
In 27 percent of the apps analyzed, 'strong identifiers' were sent -- this includes traceable information on the device and in one case, usernames.
Practices - Identifiers - Advertising - User - Habits
Other practices were mixed, sending 'weak' identifiers relating to advertising and user habits that aren't directly related to their usage.
In two cases, however, apps collected and sent out data on users' health diaries and their substance use.
Care - Professionals - Apps - Disclosures - Data
'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,' reads the...
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