Intended for healthcare professionals


Commercial health apps: in the user’s interest?

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: (Published 21 March 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l1280

Linked Research

Data sharing practices of medicines related apps and the mobile ecosystem: traffic, content, and network analysis

  1. Claudia Pagliari, senior lecturer in primary care
  1. eHealth Research Group, Usher Institute of Population Health Sciences and Informatics, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Claudia.Pagliari{at}

Study shows how sensitive data from health apps is finding its way to corporations

Excitement about digital health is at an all time high, with innovations in mobile personal computing, robotics, genomics, artificial intelligence, cloud based infrastructure, and more, promising to revolutionise the organisation, quality, cost effectiveness, inclusivity, and personalisation of patient care.12 Amid this celebration, the shadow of privacy risks continues to lurk, like an unwelcome guest at a party.345

In a linked paper, Grundy and colleagues (doi:10.1136/bmj.l920) examine the surreptitious tracking and profiling of people using medicines related apps, which can generate sensitive health data.6

Grundy and colleagues used an “app store crawling program” to identify the top 100 medicines related apps available to Android mobile users in the UK, USA, Australia, and Canada, combined with a search for endorsed apps on a medicines related agency website, a health app library, a systematic review, and their personal networks. Of the 821 apps screened, 24 met the criteria of managing drugs (for example, information, decision support, adherence, engagement), requesting at least one “dangerous” permission, claiming to collect or share user data, or requiring user interaction. These were tested multiple times, using dummy user profiles representing professionals and patients, to create a baseline, then the process was repeated, each time changing one …

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