FTC in talks with Apple about health data protection

November 25, 2014 by Tracey Lien, Los Angeles Times

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is in talks with Apple to ensure that sensitive health data collected by its mobile and wearable devices will not be used without owners' consent.

Apple's latest iPhone operating system, iOS 8, comes with the HealthKit platform, which offers users the ability to track and share a vast range of and points like diet, exercise and activity across multiple apps and devices. The Apple Watch, which will launch early next year, comes with a heart rate sensor, GPS and accelerometer, which tracks a user's heart rate, distance traveled, steps taken and calories burned.

With the wealth of user that Apple will have access to, the FTC is understandably interested in how these data are used.

Apple confirmed that it has met with the FTC for run-of-the-mill discussions about its products and privacy, and two people familiar with the matter told Reuters that Apple representatives have assured agency officials the company will not sell users' health data to third parties like advertisers, nor will it allow third-party developers to do so.

"We designed HealthKit with privacy in mind," said Apple spokesperson Trudy Muller.

Unlike health and medical data patients give to healthcare providers, most data consumers store in mobile health apps are not covered by privacy rules known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

An FTC study from May revealed that a good portion of mobile health app developers collect consumer health data and give them to third parties. The 12 app developers featured in the study were found to have shared user health data with 76 different entities, including advertisers.

In Apple's case, the company tightened its in August to ensure data collected through HealthKit would not be used by developers for advertising or data-mining purposes. Data logged by the Apple Watch are encrypted on the device, and users must give consent before can access their health information.

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