Smartphone Apps May Be Violating Your Privacy

It's no secret that the smartphone app industry is skyrocketing. Experts expect it to grow to be a $26 billion industry by 2017. But as the business grows, people need to be more and more wary of where their information might pop up next.Avid biker, Matt Demargel, pedaled his way to losing 30 pounds and credits health and fitness apps for helping him. "The apps have been very critical in helping me achieve my goals," said Matt.Matt enters his height, weight, everything he eats, and how much he exercises into one app and uses another to track each bike ride. But Matt realizes he's not the only one watching his progress. Research by the privacy technology firm, Evidon, found many popular health, wellness and fitness apps share your data with third parties. "I've made a choice that being that this was going to help me from a health perspective, that I would take the privacy risk," said Matt.If an app transmits information to your doctor, pharmacy, or health care provider, that data is confidential and protected under strict federal health information privacy laws, known as HIPAA. But if HIPPA doesn't apply, then it's up to each app to disclose its own privacy policy.A study by Privacy Rights Clearinghouse reveals more than a third of apps it reviewed sent data to parties it did not disclose. "I think that's troubling. In the health and fitness context, where consumers are used to thinking about sharing their information in the traditional provider context, I think they might be surprised about the collection of information that's happening," said Cora Tung Han, attorney for the Federal Trade Commission.The same study found a majority of apps sent data over unencrypted connections. The FTC is looking into it and warns that app providers need to let users know exactly who is watching their every move. "We do look at whether or not apps are honoring what they say in their privacy policies, and also whether or not they are living up to what they say to consumers in the app itself about what they're doing with their information," said Han.The Application Developer's Alliance says it encourages app makers to be up front about data collection and the organization admitted targeted ads are a big reason for sharing info and a big source of revenue in the industry. "So, if you have high blood pressure and you are telling the app, 'I have high blood pressure', you should expect you're going to get advertisements for high blood pressure medicine," said Jon Potter with the ADA.Matt Demargel says despite the risk of data sharing and unclear privacy policies; he's not putting the brakes on his beloved apps anytime soon. He just follows his own rules of the road, which experts agree is a good way of gauging if an app is right for you. "I just make sure if it's out there it's something I'm comfortable with the whole world knowing," said Matt.The best way to stay safe is to make sure you read all the terms & conditions, no matter how unnecessary it may seem. Also, the privacy rules for each app should state where your private data might be shared. The FTC is recommending app developers offer a "do not track" program similar to the one that exists for web browsing.