Image: Courtesy of The Financial Times.
As scary as it sounds, it's not exactly new news that many apps aren't really there to provide a service to the user. Among the tech-savvy, it's generally assumed that if a service is free, there's always a catch. For many free apps and sites that can't make money from subscriptions or advertising, the real coup comes in providing a free service in exchange for your precious information. Information about your habits, where to contact you, and what you're most likely to spend money on that will then be passed on to other companies looking to advertise to or simply analyze large populations of people. Scary, huh?
Which is why this latest report is particularly off-putting. The Financial Times commissioned web privacy group Evidon to look into 20 of the most popular health and fitness apps, and the report found that all of them regularly transmit user information to a variety of other companies. “Consumers should not assume any of their data are private in the mobile app environment," the report reads, "even health data that they consider sensitive." Among the apps surveyed were MapMyRun, which tracks the user's jogging route, and iPeriod, which monitors the menstrual cycle. That information can be used not only to target ads for the right product (or at the right time of the month), but also by insurance companies looking for pre-existing conditions or a way to raise your premium.
Not all of this data sharing is bad news. Some companies say they're actually openly partnering with insurance companies to help customers get more out of their plans — like discounts or prizes — by passing certain fitness goals. Overall, though, this trend is definitely something to take note of the next time you download a free app, and maybe just the push you need to actually read that long page of terms and conditions. As new apps continue to pop up and developers look for a way to actually make money, the water's only going to get murkier. (Financial Times)