Despite Privacy Worries, Consumers Trust Apple With Their Health Data

Posted on August 14, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she’s served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

These days, everyone seems to want access to consumer health data. We’re talking not just about healthcare companies, but also financial firms, insurance companies and technology giants like Apple, Google and Amazon.

Consumers have every reason to be concerned how their data is used, as companies outside of the healthcare realm, in particular, might use it in ways that make them uncomfortable. After all, these health-related companies may not have to follow HIPAA rules. Not only that, laws that govern data collection of any kind are still evolving on the state and federal level. It’s just not clear where privacy rules for health data are going.

Troubling ambiguities like these may be why 37% of the 1,000-plus people responding to a new Twitter poll said they wouldn’t share their data with anyone. Perhaps they’ve begun to realize that companies like Google could do a lot of harm if they act recklessly with the health data they’re accumulating.

Nonetheless, there’s at least one company they trust more than others with their PHI, according to the poll, which was conducted by a CNBC writer. That company is Apple, says columnist Christina Farr. When asked which companies they trust with the health data, 41% picked Apple. Meanwhile, Google and Amazon came in at 14% and 8% respectively. That’s a pretty big gap.

Why do consumers trust Apple more than other technology companies?  It’s far from clear. But Andrew Boyd, a professor of biomedical and health information sciences at the University of Illinois, suggests that it’s because Apple has taken steps to foster trust. “Apple has done a big push around health and privacy to breed familiarity and comfort,” Boyd told CNBC.

He noted that Apple has announced plans to make aggregated health information available on smartphones. Next, it plans to integrate other medical data, such as lab results, which usually aren’t part of an integrated health record, Farr points out. Apple has also promised users that it won’t sell health data to advertisers or third-party developers.

Ideally, other companies should be following in Apple’s footsteps, suggests health data privacy expert Lucia Savage, who responded to the Twitter poll.

Savage, who is currently serving as chief privacy and regulatory officer at Omada Health, believes that any company that collects health data should at least provide consumers with a summary of the data they collect on their users and promise not to sell it. (She didn’t say so directly, but we know most non-healthcare firms can’t be bothered with such niceties.)

I think we all look forward to the day when every company takes health data privacy seriously. But giants like Google, with effectively infinite resources, are still pushing the envelope, and we can only expect its competitors to do the same thing. Unless consumers mount a massive protest, or there’s a radical change in federal law, I suspect most non-healthcare firms will keep using health data however they please.