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Is someone making money using your health data?

Many app makers are selling info related to your health habits— here's what to look out for and how to potentially stop it.

HOUSTON — Technology has changed our world and everything in it, but concerns over privacy continue to grow, especially when it comes to our health.

Before we can figure out how much of your personal information is out there, we first have to distinguish between what is health care data and what is general health data.

Information you share with your doctor, details about you that are protected by HIPPA laws....that's health care data. On the other hand, health data...that's everything else.

It's important to know health data can be sold— just like what you tell your phone, your mobile apps, even that "Which Hollywood actor are you?" survey you may have completed.

What you tell your phone, your apps, even that “Which Hollywood actor are you?” survey, anything you put online – assume it can be sold.

Especially when it comes to free apps. You’re not paying for it, which means you’re the product.

“Basically your health apps are in the business of collecting data about you, and that’s interesting," University of Houston Asst. Professor Dr. Chris Bronk said.

Weight loss, fitness trackers, even those family planning apps. You’re giving them a lot of personal information - your weight, your blood pressure, and even how often you’re having sex.

They’re not a registered health care provider, so they don’t have to follow the rules of HIPAA. Plus, you’re the one freely giving them your information.

Whether or not you care if your information is out there, this practice can still affect you— particularly through targeted ads, Bronk said.

“If it seems like you have a health issue, you’ll hear about it on your social media feed now, rather than a television commercial, say during your newscast tonight," Bronk said.

Insurance companies may also be interested.

“Our behavior may impact our rates on our health insurance," Bronk said.

Insurance companies make money off knowing more about you. For example, maybe you’re a smoker, but you didn’t tell them.

“Nicotine will change your heart rate, breathing pattern, even people who are vaping, if a health app can see that," Bronk said.

That app may give you away.

There are ways to stop it, such as deleting the app or just being mindful of what you put online, but Bronk believes real protection may only come in the form of a law.

“It’s a policy decision basically on who can use your health information [and] from where," Bronk said.


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