Health Tracking Apps Found Sharing Sensitive Data of Millions of Users with Facebook!

Privacy International, an advocacy group based in UK, recently shared details about the research it conducted on Period Tracker apps, with media outlets. According to the findings, apps such as MIA Fem and Maya are providing Facebook with extremely personal information about women’s health and sexual activities including timings of the periods and their use of contraception. Some of these apps including Maya have high download counts and are used by women for various reasons.

Sharing of data happens through Facebook’s Software Development Kit (SDK). The kit helps app developers in many ways, the most important of which is collecting user data to show them targeted ads. Any personal details submitted by the user can be sent by SDK to Facebook.

Privacy International claims that Maya notifies Facebook whenever a user opens the app, and instantly starts sharing data with the social media service, some of which is shared even before the user agrees to the app’s privacy policy. In the report, it was mentioned that users would expect their sensitive data to be treated with extra care but in reality, that’s not the case.

Among the data shared, use of contraception by the users as well as their moods are included. Advertisers can effectively target ads to people, based on their moods.

Plackal Tech (owner of Maya) claimed that no personal or medical data gets shared with Facebook and that the Ad SDK helps them in earning revenue by showing ads. The company added that users can subscribe to Maya’s premium subscription to stop getting ads. It was also said that all information retrieved by Maya is for the proper functioning of the product as well as improvement of accuracy of the app’s prediction over time.

A Facebook spokesperson said that app developers are required to be clear with users about the information they are sharing with the platform. Also, Facebook has systems placed to detect and delete certain types of personal data. Moreover, the company is looking for more ways to improve their system and products in this regard.

As for MIA Fem, it asks users about various habits but their data doesn’t get shared with Facebook right away. Based on a user’s interests however, articles are suggested to them and those articles are shared with Facebook.

Lindsey Barrett, a staff attorney at Georgetown Law’s Intellectual Property Rights tech clinic, said that most of the users do not read all the privacy policies and even if they do, the policies are poorly explained and won’t make the user understand what they need to. She also brought up the topic of individual privacy rights and asked about who else is Facebook sharing the retrieved data with, as it is both a dignity as well as a discrimination issue.

Chandana Hiran, a 22-year-old resident of Mumbai who stopped using Maya said that she preferred the app as it made easier to track symptoms associated with her periods. However, the concern of such sensitive details getting leaked wasn’t to be taken lightly. She said that it is one thing for an app to share a shopping cart/wishlist with Facebook but private/sensitive details should remain confidential.

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