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DEFENDERS: Mental health apps might not be as confidential with data


Mental health apps are becoming more popular, especially during the pandemic. Like any sort of app or website, your data might not be as safe as you think.

Prasad Calyam with the University of Missouri Engineering school told ABC 17 News anytime a user inputs their data into an app, the user has to assume it's open for third parties to see.

"When the vendor gives you the app and it's free, it's not free. You are the product at that point," Calyam said. "So the data then is at the vendor's discretion. It can be either used internally for research or in many cases it's sold to third parties."

According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services the healthcare privacy law "HIPAA" doesn't protect data just because it's related to your health. The law only applies to information collected and held by covered entities like insurance companies and health care providers.

A recent investigation by Consumer Reports found a number of companies had questionable privacy practices. Some of the apps that say they're covered by HIPAA might not be in ways you'd expect.

While your medical information might not be sent off to third parties, other data points could be. Those things could be gender, age, and other interests so other companies know how to either advertise or use them for research.

"In the app world, it's a private business, when you share information they essentially don't have to comply with all these HIPAA laws. Nobody is going to audit them," he said.

Calyam said to check privacy settings on an app, on your phone, and give limited information to the vendor. "If you're going to be sharing information, definitely make it an effort to provide the least."

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Deborah Kendrick

Deborah is a weekday evening anchor and investigative reporter for ABC 17 News.


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