Connected health is a growing Canadian trend, but privacy officials aren’t so sure

With the sharp rise in the number of Canadian fitness junkies, it’s no wonder connected fitness trackers are growing in popularity. According to a report by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Canada will be focusing on connected health and fitness devices during this year’s Global Privacy Sweep.

The global privacy sweep is an annual initiative conducted by the Global Privacy Enforcement Network where “sweepers” attempt to “recreate the consumer experience” to assess privacy practices. This years’ sweep is currently ongoing, taking place between April 11 and April 15, and responds to Canadians’ growing fascination with the Internet of Things.

Last year’s sweep focused on 172 Canadian websites and apps. It revealed that 41 percent of the websites explored left sweepers feeling uncomfortable, mostly because the website or app in question might disclose personal information to third parties.

Furthermore, according to an “Emerging Trends” report released by the Business Development Bank of Canada in 2013, the “heath mania” was just about to take off. Even then, 31 percent of Canadians would have paid a premium for health enhancing products. The report also reveals that over $1.3 billion in health and wellness apps was spent in 2012.

In a statement sent to MobileSyrup, Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said that connected health devices have the potential to collect and store more of its users’ most delicate, private information.

“Connected devices, such as fitness trackers, smart scales, sleep monitors and other health related products, are capable of capturing some of our most intimate data.”

He goes on to say that the companies making these products need to take responsibility for securing and protecting such a large volume of personal data.

“Given the sensitivity of the information, it is imperative that the companies behind such devices are transparent about what they collect, how the information will be used and with whom the data will be shared. I’m pleased the Sweep will focus on this important area under the Internet of Things banner.”

According to a report entitled ‘Every Step you Fake,’ completed jointly by the Citizen Lab of UofT’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Open Concept, a Canadian non-profit that conducts research on data security, some fitness trackers are currently vulnerable to tracking. Furthermore, the information they collect is vulnerable to manipulation and exaggeration.

The report examined popular brands such as Garmin, Fitbit, Jawbone, Mio, Withings, Xiaomi, Basis and Apple.

According to the CBC, who spoke with the executive director of Open Effect and research fellow at the Munk school of Global affairs, Andrew Hiltz, fitness trackers are a fairly new technology that have yet to be properly regulated.

“We found cases where your data is being sent and you might not be aware, and there’s no apparent reason why it’s being sent,” said Hiltz to the CBC.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner released a report on the Internet of Things this past February, which argues that as we begin to accept massive data collection as the norm, certain practices need to be employed to ensure privacy.

To counter the unauthorized sharing of personal data, the report stated that organizations that facilitate the collection of data must act accountably and transparently to maintain the safety and trust of their users.

Related ReadingFitness wearables are at risk for data breaches and fraud, says U of T study

[source]Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada[/source]