fitness tracker

Tracking your health with an app? Facebook is too

You don’t even have to be a Facebook user for the social media platform to collect data on you – and highly personal data, at that! 

If you’re using a phone app that tracks things like your menstrual cycle, heart rate, exercise habits and calories burned, chances are good that that app is sending that information along to – you guessed it – Facebook.  

Fuel for advertising

A Facebook-provided analytics tool called “App Events” lets app developers track and store user data, then send it right to Facebook, who then use it to fuel their advertising algorithms. Developers use App Events to track how and when people used their apps, and to gain insights for their own advertising purposes.  

The social media platform was caught acquiring sensitive data from Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker, and around 30 other apps so that information could be used for hyper-targeted ads. People were willingly inputting this info into their apps, but they had no idea what would happen to the data beyond the primary function of the app. 

An example: Say a woman is trying to get pregnant, so she’s tracking her periods, ovulation and sexual activity in the Flo Period app. The app sends that information to Facebook, who then hit her with ads for maternity clothing, prenatal vitamins, diapers and daycares in her area.  

The goal of most tech is to slurp up information and turn it into profit, no matter how private the data. And it doesn’t get much more private than bodily functions! 

Feigning ignorance

Facebook claims it requires apps to tell users what info is shared and forbids apps from sending intimate data. But it did nothing to stop the flow of that sensitive data.  

Given their lax attitude toward data privacy, it’s not hard to imagine Facebook selling private information to health insurers, who would pay a premium for it and even use it to decide who they’ll cover. Free health apps have already been known to give up sensitive information to insurance companies – why wouldn’t Facebook do it?  

Digital gangsters

Wall Street Journal investigation found that many of these apps didn’t disclose that they would be sharing this information with third parties, or with Facebook specifically. Shortly after the Journal story broke, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called for further investigation into this invasion of privacy. 

This all comes on the heels of a scathing report out of the U.K. that essentially called Facebook digital gangsters who are abusing the power of their platform. And it’s not just Facebook; Google and Amazon have a scary amount of data on every one of us, which means we need to be taking this seriously.  

Data privacy should be an election issue

While the issue of data privacy is finally starting to be a high priority in the States, with investigations into breaches and tougher policies mirroring those or Europe, in Canada we’re just not there yet. We need to push for stricter privacy legislation and make it an election issue. We need to demand accountability from these data-hoarding corporations.