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So how can we, users of smartphones, fitness trackers, smartwatches, and the internet in general, protect our information? And how is this information actually being used?
“There are two types of data being collected and sold that people are really beginning to worry about,” says Ari Scharg, partner at Edelson PC, a law firm specializing in tech and privacy. The first is biometric data—fingerprints, face geometry, voice waves. “Companies do this to learn more about us, our behavior, our friends and families, and the products and services that we interact with,” says Scharg. The second type of data is geolocation data, which uses data from your smart phone to track where and when you go.
As reported by NPR, third parties buy data so that they can target a particular group of people for advertising—say, millennial women who live in New York. But there are serious implications to what companies and advertisers can do with this information. “There was a recent issue in Massachusetts where a mobile ad company was using geolocation data to target women sitting in Planned Parenthood facilities by sending pro life messages to their cell phones,” Scharg says.
And while music playlists might seem trivial, Bose and companies like it have access to some deeply personal information. You might not care if companies know you’re sweating it out to Kendrick Lamar and Katy Perry, but what if you also use your headphones to listen to political or religious podcasts? That means companies could be get a picture on your personal beliefs and using them for targeted marketing.
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Privacy issues are a big problem with health and fitness-geared apps. A 2016 study from the Future of Privacy Forum, a think tank focused on data privacy issues, found that about a third of fitness-focused apps don’t list their privacy policies in the app store, meaning that users of the app have no way to know how that company is using their personal data.
That risk is increased considering that many health and fitness apps track a lot of physiological data—such as what you eat, when and how you sleep, and your heart rate—so it matters who is buying that information. Privacy advocates are concerned that this data could be sold to health insurance companies. “An insurance company wants to how often you eat fast food, how often you go to the gym, and what kind of magazines you read before they price your health insurance policy,” says Scharg. “Your premiums could be higher if they don’t like what they see.”