Amid the proliferation of smartphone health applications and trackers over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new Morning Consult survey shows that the public is increasingly less concerned about the privacy of their health information on apps.
The Public Is Becoming Less Concerned About Data Privacy on Health Apps
Double-digit declines in health data privacy concern for millennials, boomers
- The share of U.S. adults who said they were either “very” or “somewhat” concerned about their data privacy while using health apps declined from 64% in a September 2021 survey to 56% in the new Morning Consult survey.
- Millennials had the largest decrease among generational groups with a decline in concern of 13 percentage points to 52%, followed by baby boomers and Gen Xers with drops of 10 points to 62% and 5 points to 56%, respectively.
- About half of Gen Z adults said they were concerned about data privacy for health apps in the most recent survey, essentially unchanged from 2021.
Comfort with technology is contributing to the decline in privacy concern
Health apps and wearables have created a treasure trove of sensitive patient data, attracting both hackers and advertisers to try and profit from the information. Whether it is reports of data breaches of wearables or companies’ sharing user data without consent, the digitization of the industry has thrust health privacy into the spotlight.
Health data security has recently caught the attention of regulators. The Federal Trade Commission and a bipartisan group of senators have gone after health care companies like GoodRx Holdings Inc. and Cerebral Inc. for sharing data with tech giants like Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook and Alphabet Inc.’s Google without notifying users.
While some may assume that the ubiquity of smartphones and apps would create a more cautious user base, Morning Consult’s data suggests that people have become more relaxed.
“What could be driving some of that drop is comfort level in utilizing some of these assets throughout the course of the pandemic,” said Andrew Tomlinson, director of regulatory affairs for the American Health Information Management Association. Tomlinson pointed to how most people have used a smartphone, wearable or app over the past three years, such as digital proof of vaccination passes.
Increased comfort with technology may not directly lead to more cyberattacks or breaches, he said, but it may create situations where organizations are not upfront about what they do with data or where users are not as vigilant about checking privacy policies.
Tomlinson stressed that educating people about the importance of data security should be a top priority, as the value of health data to bad actors has “never been higher.”
“It's not about scaring patients into not using wearables or third-party apps,” Tomlinson said. “It's just making sure that they understand what the choices they're making mean and then making sure they're armed with the right tools to make those decisions.”
Surveys conducted Sept. 24-27, 2021, and Jan. 23-25, 2023, among representative samples of 2,200 and 2,201 U.S. adults, respectively, with unweighted margins of error of +/- 2 percentage points.