With reports suggesting Apple ($AAPL) is set to get deeper into health data tracking by introducing its own wearable device, the tech giant has tightened up its app privacy rules. The changes ban the sale of health data to advertisers, while maintaining app developers' right to share data from consenting users with third parties for medical research purposes.
Drawing the distinction between which groups data is shared with and for what purpose should allow Apple to counter growing privacy concerns about health apps without compromising their utility in clinical research. The latest update to Apple's iOS mobile platform includes an app called "Health" that will collect data on blood pressure, heart rate and other metrics, plus a way for third parties to add data to the centralized hub.
If the data is consistent and high quality, such a centralized hub of passively collected health metrics could change healthcare and clinical research by providing oversight of patients between visits. It also creates new privacy worries. "Apple faces this increasingly tricky balance of ensuring they are carefully regulating the data developers have access to, with developers' desire to create ever more innovative apps and services," CCS Insight analyst Geoff Blaber told the Financial Times.
The health data privacy topic has attracted the interest of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which found that a sample of 12 apps shared users' diet and workout details with 76 third parties. Under the new terms, none of these third parties can be "advertising platforms, data brokers or information resellers," The Guardian reports. The sharing of data from consenting users with "third parties for medical research purposes" is the one exception to the ban.