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Consumer Advocates Say Some Fitness Apps Put Consumers At Risk

Aired 7/16/13 on KPBS News.

Fitness apps may need better policies and protections for delicate consumer information.

— A consumer advocate says fitness applications for smartphones aren't doing a good job of protecting people's sensitive personal information.

Findings from the report:

Many apps send data in the clear – unencrypted -- without user knowledge.

Many apps connect to several third-party sites without user knowledge.

Unencrypted connections potentially expose sensitive and embarrassing data to everyone on a network.

Nearly three-fourths, or 72%, of the apps we assessed presented medium (32%) to high (40%) risk regarding personal privacy.

The apps which presented the lowest privacy risk to users were paid apps. This is primarily due to the fact that they don't rely solely on advertising to make money, which means the data is less likely to be available to other parties.

The San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse studied applications that do everything from tracking weight to recording moods to logging fitness routines.

Clearinghouse director Beth Givens said the cell phone programs frequently transmit unencrypted data and share information with third party advertisers. She said fewer than half of the apps reviewed had links to privacy policies.

"We don't think that most of the app developers and app publishers are doing a very good job telling users just what is happening with their personal information," said Givens.

Givens said developers should work harder at telling consumers about what happens to the information they share and they also need to do a better job of protecting sensitive information. She said some running apps share route and location information and that could put a person at risk.

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