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Apple Watch Is Improving Health, What’s the Catch?

By Abder-Rahman Ali

The Apple Watch launched last March and shipped in April to those who pre-ordered. Thousands of apps are available for Apple Watch, either as standalone apps or combined with iPhone apps. A compelling (and popular) feature is the ability of the watch to track health and fitness, a trend throughout wearable technology. This article will discuss how Apple Watch can help with health and fitness but also the issues with Apple Watch's data privacy and security.

Apple Watch for your health and fitness

Apple Watch can come in handy when tracking your health and fitness. For instance, the watch will remind you to stand up, and will also send you daily reminders on how close you are to your activity goals. You can also view your heart rate and workout stats.

Activity app

Apple Watch has motion sensors to keep track of movement. This happens through the Activity app. In the Activity app, three rings are present: The move ring, exercise ring, and the stand ring.

The move ring tracks the number of calories burned. The exercise ring tracks how many minutes have been spent doing brisk activity throughout the day. The stand ring will track time spent away from a desk.

The Activity app sets and tracks three targets:

  1. Standing for at least one minute per hour
  2. Moving more
  3. Logging 30-minutes of brisk activity daily.

This enables the user to keep track of indirect physical activity, assuming the impetus for positive behavioural change will occur through increased awareness of monitoring of one's physical activity.

Workout app

Moving beyond just tracking activity, another Apple Watch app is the workout app. When turned on it will cause the accelerometer and heart rate sensor to work. Raising one's wrist during a run will measure heart rate, pace, time spent, and closeness to mileage goal.

Apple Watch users are taking health monitoring more seriously

Compared to users who are using an iPhone only, Apple Watch users seem to be taking health monitoring more seriously. In a press release, Hello Heart mentions:

"We analyzed the usage data from thousands of Hello Heart users on Apple Watch and iPhone and it does make you care more about your health".

This seems due to the Apple Watch being a wearable device, and much easier and quicker to monitor your heart statistics than with just an iPhone.

Do the benefits of health apps outweigh the risk of third party data sharing?

Prior to the Apple Watch release, Apple attempted to establish data privacy provisions . Apple Watch comes with Apple's Health app, through which the user has the option to share health information with third-party apps, provided that your health data collected is stored on Apple's HealthKit.

Morgan Reed, executive director at The App Association said that:

"Apple is leaving your HealthKit data on the device and not collecting it… It also means that if an employer wants access to your health care information, they would have to demand that you give it to them".

In a recent study, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission concluded that developers of 12 mobile health and fitness apps have been sharing user information with 76 different parties (i.e. advertisers).

Security issues are the bigger consequence of third party sharing. The emergence of wearables this may be the means that a new accessible target for cyber criminals. Kevin Mahaffey, chief technology officer at the security firm Lookout suggests:

"Once people see the power of a new technology and they start adopting it, they'll start using it for things like payments, storing sensitive data, business communications and when people start doing that, now there's an incentive for attackers to go after the device".

In conclusion

The aim of this article is raise the awareness that, although mobile technology is changing healthcare, privacy and security issues are emerging.

Who is responsible of our privacy and security? How can we make sure that our data is safe? Should we stop using mobile technology and wearables if we want to keep our privacy? Is there always a price with a new technology emerging?

I want to conclude this article with what Reed said:

"Apple has clear privacy rules, but consumers should still be on guard. Be prepared to take charge of your health information, and feel free to say no to sharing data with apps".

As always, I'm keen to hear your thoughts and experiences, have you have your health data compromised by an app? What was the outcome?

  • Chris Ward

    What are your thoughts on the effects the quantified self is having on people’s health? The constant monitoring and assessing of yourself for example.

  • http://www.isights.org/ Michael Long

    So… if you store any type of personal information on a computer or computerized device, hackers may try to gain access to it.

    Thank you, Captain Obvious.

    But seriously, at this stage of the game the security risks of having health data on the Apple Watch are minimal. I mean, the actual data on the watch relates to steps per day and average heart rate and how many times you stood up when it reminded you to do so. Hardly earth shattering information from a hacker’s perspective.

    Unless, of course, one your bank’s security questions is: “On average, how many times a week do you exercise?”

    • Chris Ward

      I think the author’s perspective is more towards the other data that health tracking apps might start tracking (and some are tracking). I have heard whispers already of insurers potentially using some of this data to deny you health insurance and the like.

      Less sinister, but still disturbing is the potential for advertising to be generated from these statistics as well.

      Well, that’s my opinion anyway. I’m not so bothered about hacking, but would rather too much wasn’t known about my body.

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