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J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2015 Apr;22(e1):e28-33. doi: 10.1136/amiajnl-2013-002605. Epub 2014 Aug 21.

Availability and quality of mobile health app privacy policies.

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Faculty of Management, Economics and Social Sciences, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany.
Department of Pediatrics, Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics, Harvard Law School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Children's Hospital Informatics Program, Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.


Mobile health (mHealth) customers shopping for applications (apps) should be aware of app privacy practices so they can make informed decisions about purchase and use. We sought to assess the availability, scope, and transparency of mHealth app privacy policies on iOS and Android. Over 35,000 mHealth apps are available for iOS and Android. Of the 600 most commonly used apps, only 183 (30.5%) had privacy policies. Average policy length was 1755 (SD 1301) words with a reading grade level of 16 (SD 2.9). Two thirds (66.1%) of privacy policies did not specifically address the app itself. Our findings show that currently mHealth developers often fail to provide app privacy policies. The privacy policies that are available do not make information privacy practices transparent to users, require college-level literacy, and are often not focused on the app itself. Further research is warranted to address why privacy policies are often absent, opaque, or irrelevant, and to find a remedy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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