Analysis of Diabetes Apps to Assess Privacy-Related Permissions: Systematic Search of Apps

José Javier Flors-Sidro, Mowafa Househ, Alaa Abd-Alrazaq, Josep Vidal-Alaball, Luis Fernandez-Luque, Carlos Luis Sanchez-Bocanegra
2021 JMIR Diabetes  
Mobile health has become a major vehicle of support for people living with diabetes. Accordingly, the availability of mobile apps for diabetes has been steadily increasing. Most of the previous reviews of diabetes apps have focused on the apps' features and their alignment with clinical guidelines. However, there is a lack of knowledge on the actual compliance of diabetes apps with privacy and data security guidelines. The aim of this study was to assess the levels of privacy of mobile apps for
more » ... diabetes to contribute to the raising of awareness of privacy issues for app users, developers, and governmental data protection regulators. We developed a semiautomatic app search module capable of retrieving Android apps' privacy-related information, particularly the dangerous permissions required by apps, with the aim of analyzing privacy aspects related to diabetes apps. Following the research selection criteria, the original 882 apps were narrowed down to 497 apps that were included in the analysis. Approximately 60% of the analyzed diabetes apps requested potentially dangerous permissions, which pose a significant risk to users' data privacy. In addition, 28.4% (141/497) of the apps did not provide a website for their privacy policy. Moreover, it was found that 40.0% (199/497) of the apps contained advertising, and some apps that claimed not to contain advertisements actually did. Ninety-five percent of the apps were free, and those belonging to the "medical" and "health and fitness" categories were the most popular. However, app users do not always realize that the free apps' business model is largely based on advertising and, consequently, on sharing or selling their private data, either directly or indirectly, to unknown third parties. The aforementioned findings confirm the necessity of educating patients and health care providers and raising their awareness regarding the privacy aspects of diabetes apps. Therefore, this research recommends properly and comprehensively training users, ensuring that governments and regulatory bodies enforce strict data protection laws, devising much tougher security policies and protocols in Android and in the Google Play Store, and implicating and supervising all stakeholders in the apps' development process.
doi:10.2196/16146 pmid:33439129 pmcid:PMC7840294 fatcat:amfp6wlbrjaodiqp7fzqwazaw4