Apple Questioned By The FTC Over Health Data Privacy

The US Federal Trade Commission is questioning Apple over how it plans to use sensitive data gathered from users through the company’s new Health app and the upcoming wearable watch.

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Photo: Maridav / Shutterstock

Reuters reports that Apple representatives have met with FTC officials several times in the past few months to discuss the matter.

Specifically, the FTC wants to make sure that Apple will not sell the health data gathered by the upcoming smartwatch and other devices to third party marketers, or enable app developers to do the same. It also wants to ensure that proper measures are taken to protect the health data against malicious attacks.

“We’ve been very encouraged by [the FTC’s] support,” said Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller, who said the company works closely with regulators regarding device and service protection.

Apple’s HealthKit platform was introduced in June as a means for aggregating health data pulled by third-party accessories and apps into a single database.

In September, Apple updated its App Store guidelines with new rules that forbid apps from storing HealthKit information to the iCloud or sharing it with third parties.

But the FTC has requested that Congress should pass legislation to make the practices of data brokers visible. At the moment, most of the data stored in mobile health apps is not covered by privacy rules known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The agency has prioritized examining whether mobile health developers marketing apps on Google’s Android and iOS platforms are taking precautions to safeguard the privacy of users.

The FTC’s recent study also concluded that many app developers sell or share health data, and the results of the study revealed that developers of 12 health and fitness apps were sharing user information with 76 parties, including advertisers.

Apple also recently launched a new privacy site in an attempt to increase the transparency over how it protects user data, and to educate users about how they can protect themselves in a better way. Tim Cook makes it clear in a letter published on the website that Apple is not in the business of selling user data.

The news source does note that there are no telltale signs that these talks will lead to a formal investigation into Cupertino’s new healthcare products.

Apple has been reported to utilize Marcy Wilder, health data protection lawyer, to consult on privacy issues related to its products integrating health data and is also “considering appointing an in-house health privacy czar.”

This news of Apple facing scrutiny from the FTC over how it plans to use sensitive data comes before the launch of Apple’s new health and fitness focused smartwatch, which is expected to be unveiled in spring 2015.