Female Health Apps Mishandle Sensitive Information – Study Reveals

A study jointly carried out by researchers from King’s College London and University College London, UCL of 20 leading female health apps available in the UK and US, revealed that women were being coerced into disclosing sensitive information, which could jeopardize their privacy and safety.

One of the discoveries was that many apps handling medical and fertility data lacked data deletion functions, making it difficult for users to remove entered information.

Even more concerning was that some pregnancy-tracking apps required users to disclose past miscarriages or abortions, a practice with significant privacy and safety implications, especially in regions where such information could lead to legal ramifications.

The lead author of the research Dr Ruba Abu-Salma, in an interview with BBC, said, “Requiring users to disclose sensitive or potentially criminalizing information as a pre-condition to deleting data is an extremely poor privacy practice with dire safety implications. It removes any form of meaningful consent offered to users.”

According to the study, 35% of apps claimed not to share personal data with third parties in the data safety sections, but contradicted this in their privacy policies. 45% of privacy policies emphasized lack of responsibility for the practices of any third parties, despite also claiming to vet them.

Half of the apps provided explicit assurance that users’ health data would not be shared with advertisers, however, they were ambiguous about whether this would also include data collected through the app.

In response to these findings, the researchers have developed a resource to help improve the privacy policies and practices of female health apps. They are also calling for critical discussions on how health apps, including fitness and mental health apps, handle sensitive data.

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