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Research Letter
March 8, 2016

Privacy Policies of Android Diabetes Apps and Sharing of Health Information

Author Affiliations
  • 1Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago-Kent College of Law, Chicago, Illinois
  • 2now with Almirall Hermal GmbH, Reinbek, Germany
JAMA. 2016;315(10):1051-1052. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.19426

Mobile health apps can help individuals manage chronic health conditions.1 One-fifth of smartphone owners had health apps in 2012,2 and 7% of primary care physicians recommended a health app.3 The US Food and Drug Administration has approved the prescription of some apps.4 Health apps can transmit sensitive medical data, including disease status and medication compliance. Privacy risks and the relationship between privacy disclosures and practices of health apps are understudied.

On January 3, 2014, we identified all Android diabetes apps by searching Google Play using the term diabetes. Android is the most popular mobile operating system worldwide with 82.8% market share (compared with Apple iOS’s 13.9%).5 We collected and analyzed privacy policies and permissions (disclosures of what apps can access or control on the device) for apps that remained 6 months after our initial search. Because consumers may want to know about privacy protections before choosing an app, we determined which apps had policies available predownload and what the policies protected. Then we installed a random subset of apps to determine whether data were transmitted to third parties, defined as any website not directly under the developer’s control, such as data aggregators or advertising networks.