Popular Health Data – how apps spy on the people using them

The future is digital. This also applies to healthcare. The various app stores now offer more than 300,000 health-related programs, from pedometers and weight loss coaches to nutrition guides. Companies, especially insurance companies, offer health apps as an added value. With all the recent notifications of data breaches, fears have escalated regarding the security of an individual’s data using these apps.

Health insurance companies are using more and more voluntarily disclosed data on the fitness or nutrition of their members. One example of this is the Swiss health insurance company Helsana, who advertises that an insured member can collect points through activities via an app and thus receive credits as a benefit. Using this points system, as many as 75 francs a year can be awarded to policyholders as a bonus. The health insurance company hopes that this will encourage fitness-conscious customers to use this app & therefore not have the need to utilize medical services as often.

Helsana was criticized for spying on its users and enriching this information with data from social networks. In statements to the media, Sara Stalder, managing director of the Consumer Protection Foundation (SKS) stated, “The Helsana app, but also many other mobile phone applications, collect vast amounts of information. What data is collected in the background and resold is incomprehensible and outrageous.” She finds the Helsana app particularly annoying, stating “According to its general terms and conditions, Helsana also uses social networks such as Facebook. Since Cambridge Analytica, people have known what they can do with enriched Facebook data. Helsana is evolving from a health insurance company to a data octopus insurance company.”

In the Swiss daily Blick newspaper, lawyer Martin Steiger, spokesman for the Digital Society, which campaigns for the protection of privacy on the Internet, explained; “The usage and data protection regulations of the Helsana-plus app are very transparent – and therefore frightening for many.” He then mentioned what an enormous amount of data a health insurance company collects. With the Helsana program “it is particularly problematic that data can continue to be used after you have logged off the app,” said Steiger.

But Helsana is no longer alone in this. According to the “Quantified Self” study by the “Stiftung für Technologiefolgen-Abschätzung” (Foundation for Technology Assessment), numerous insurance companies support the collection of health data through self-tracking applications, with the focus currently on recording exercise and fitness data. Anyone who is no longer able to walk a certain number of steps because of a disability, for example, runs the risk of being excluded from advantageous insurance conditions. In addition, according to the study, data protection is also inadequate, which could endanger the privacy of users. In particular, foreign providers often do not comply with the regulatory requirements. If a product comes from Asia or the USA, it is difficult for users to enforce their rights. In view of the numerous open questions, the researchers have now called for the introduction of quality labels for trackers. These need to be reviewed by consumer protection and patient organizations for data quality, privacy, contract terms and user-friendliness.

It is not only health insurance companies who are interested in medical data. Research organizations, the pharmaceutical industry, hospitals and doctors also hope to benefit from data that is as precise and multi-layered as possible. At the same time, the willingness of the population to collect or provide data containing information about their fitness, state of health or diet is increasing. Companies also have an interest in employees who are as healthy and efficient as possible.

The digital platform Dacadoo has turned this idea into a business: With the help of an app, the state of health of individual users is recorded, made visible – and improved with coaching. The company offers these digital solutions for health insurance companies and other companies in the healthcare sector, as well as for workplace health promotion.

Digitalization in the healthcare sector is leading to more and more data being collected. The question arises as to how and whether this data should be combined in order to develop better diagnostic and therapeutic options to treat, for example, diseases such as cancer. At the same time, the requirements for data protection are also increasing, opening up a wide area of conflict. The solution to these problems is healthbank.

healthbank’s health platform links the data provided by various users in the global healthcare system. The users manage and control their data on the healthbank platform and they alone decide whether they want to provide their data to the health service providers, family members, researchers and other stakeholders. Currently, around 250,000 users are registered on the platform.

The healthbank platform enables users to better understand and manage their health data. It also improves the communication with health care institutions, family members and other healthcare organizations, and promotes research. The Baar-based cooperative has raised the security of its platform to a very high level. “healthbank 2.0 is based on a completely new security architecture with end-to-end encryption,” explains Reto Schegg, CEO of healthbank. “This means that health data is already encrypted on the user’s personal device (PC, laptop or mobile phone) before it is transferred to healthbank’s cloud systems. The access authorization lies solely with the patient, whereby a two-factor identification is predefined as with online access to a bank account. “This is a completely new way of securely storing health data and will create more trust and protection among the population,” explains Schegg.

The healthbank CEO also emphasizes that in times when Apple, Samsung, Google, Facebook, Amazon or insurance companies work with our health data, it is the neutrality for which Switzerland stands that is important. “The health data is our property and should remain in our care,” explains Schegg. But this doesn’t work through structures where cantons, states, multinationals or other players take the lead: “Only an independent institution that is organised as a cooperative and stands in stable Switzerland can do this safely and independently,” Schegg knows.

Autor: Roger Huber

This article is posted on https://www.healthbank.coop/#news and https://medium.com/healthbank

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