For years, wearable technologies and fitness apps have been among the hottest trends in fitness. The ubiquity of these technologies has enabled fitness enthusiasts to quantify everything from their daily step count and heart rate to sleep quality and even menstrual cycles.
While generating and analyzing this kind of data can be attractive as a means of better understanding workouts and bodies, new reporting indicates that users could be exposing themselves and their data to snooping by other entities.
A Wall Street Journal report revealed that a number of health related apps had been sending “sensitive personal details” to social media giant Facebook without users being aware. Since then, some of those applications have ceased those transmissions.
“It’s common for developers to share information with a wide range of platforms for advertising and analytics,” a Facebook spokesperson told MarketWatch. “We require the other app developers to be clear with their users about the information they are sharing with us, and we prohibit app developers from sending us sensitive data.”
MarketWatch also reported that Facebook is taking steps to ensure that sensitive data that shouldn’t be shared with them is removed.
Still, MarketWatch reports that concerns remain. Marketing firms, advertisers and other third parties could potentially leverage data — such as GPS location data generated on a jogging or cycling — for their own purposes. Perhaps most concerning to privacy advocates is the ability for insurance companies to access health-related data.
While the Affordable Care Act prevents insurers from discriminating against individuals with pre-existing conditions or those that may live unhealthy lifestyles, the ability for companies to access this data could present a risk.
While the technologies themselves have surged forward, regulations and oversight have been slow to keep pace. Despite privacy concerns, the transmission of sensitive health information is perfectly legal, according to experts interviewed by MarketWatch.
Oftentimes, by downloading an app, users must agree to the application’s terms of service. Agreeing to have your information shared is often a part of these agreements, which few users actually take the time to read and consider carefully.
For those in the fitness industry, having additional data to understand your clientele can be useful in helping them achieve their goals. But it may be worth mentioning, before a personal training client straps on a wearable or creates an account on the latest platform, that their data may be more widely viewable than they thought.