Update: Our sources suggest that, while there is no way to know for sure, it is possible that the developers are simply using app analytics services offered by Facebook and Google. That would see data being sent to servers owned by the respective companies, but wouldn’t make any of it available for advertising.
The American Medical Association (AMA) has found that most free apps designed to help people quit smoking, or cope with depression, are sharing data with Facebook or Google – and only a third of them properly disclosed that fact in privacy policies …
The study summarises the question it sought to answer, and the results of its investigations.
Question Do the privacy policies of popular smartphone applications (apps) for depression and smoking cessation describe accurately whether data will be processed by commercial third parties?
What was particularly worrying, reports The Verge, is the reasons behind apps failing the test.
It’s likely that the data is being used to direct ads to those identified as suffering from depression or trying to quit smoking. Although this doesn’t usually involve personally-identifiable information, the data could still be misused, says Torus.
“We live in an age where, with enough breadcrumbs, it’s possible to reidentify people,” Torous says. It’s also possible the breadcrumbs just sit there, he says — but for now, they just don’t know. “What happens to this digital data is kind of a mystery.” But Chan worries about the potential, invisible risks. “Potentially advertisers could use this to compromise someone’s privacy and sway their treatment decisions,” he says. For example, what if an advertiser discovers someone is trying to quit smoking? “Maybe if someone is interested in [quitting] smoking, would they be interested in electronic cigarettes?” Chan says.