Pregnancy app comes under fire from the FTC over data sharing

Photo (c) Violeta Stomimenova - Getty Images

Users sometimes have to go the extra mile to really understand what information they’re allowing to be shared

As part of a proposed order initiated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the company behind the Premom fertility app will now have to tow the line when it comes to a user's personal information.

That company is Easy Healthcare and what got it in hot water, according to the FTC, was that it shared users’ information with other companies, including Google and a China-based marketing and analytics firms — all without telling users, getting their permission, or putting a lid on what those companies could do with the information. 

“Premom broke its promises and compromised consumers’ privacy,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We will vigorously enforce the Health Breach Notification Rule to defend consumer's health data from exploitation. Companies collecting this information should be aware that the FTC will not tolerate health privacy abuses.”

Moving forward

Easy Healthcare has agreed to settle the FTC’s charges, which will limit how it shares users’ information. The settlement also includes a promise that it will tell users how their personal information will be used and what other companies it shares someone’s information with, including personal information.

"Our agreement with the FTC is not an admission of any wrongdoing," is how Easy Healthcare framed the situation in a statement. "Rather, it is a settlement to avoid the time and expense of litigation and enables us to put this matter behind us and focus on you, our users."

"Rest assured that we do not, and will not, ever sell any information about users’ health to third parties, nor do we share it for advertising purposes."

Moms need to take more care in choosing fertility apps

Kristin Mallon, the co-founder and CEO at FemGevity and a board-certified nurse midwife praised the FTC for its efforts in protecting not only moms but anyone who uses a health-related app.

“Patients should have confidence in any health company they utilize to maintain personal confidence of their health data. Hopefully, this FTC order will ensure other digital health companies protect the confidentiality of their patients' personal data going forward,” she told ConsumerAffairs.

To that end, the FTC went on record saying that if anyone wants to protect their privacy when using an app, they can’t assume that a company will take care of that aspect for them. If you really want to ensure that your private information stays with private and goes nowhere else, you need to take three extra steps: 

  • Opt out of targeted ads, if possible. If you choose to opt-out, do it on every device and browser you use. Besides in-app tools, the Digital Advertising Alliance and the Network Advertising Initiative have free opt-out tools.

  • Check if you can customize your privacy settings. If the app doesn’t need the info it collects, especially your location, turn it off. If the app does need it, consider limiting access to only when the app is in use.

  • Find out if you have the right to tell the company to delete your data. Some state laws give you that right. Learn more at the U.S. State Privacy Legislation Tracker from the International Association of Privacy Professionals. 

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