Technology

Report: Apps are sharing sensitive data with Facebook without informing users

Several popular apps have been sharing sensitive health data from their users with Facebook, including the timing of their menstrual cycle and their blood pressure, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis published Friday.

The Journal found 11 apps with tens of millions of users among them that were sharing the information with the social network, with little to no disclosure to its users.

Instant Heart Rate: HR Monitor, which the Journal says is the most downloaded heart-rate app on Apple's mobile platform, would send users' heart rates to Facebook immediately after recording it.

The Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker gave Facebook data on users trying to become pregnant or tracking their periods.

Flo told the Journal it intended to conduct a privacy audit and would limit its data-sharing in the meantime.

The 11 apps the outlet discovered engaging in the practice were from a sample of 70 of the most popular apps in Google's and Apple's app stores.

Facebook told the Journal that some of the instances it uncovered were in violation of its terms of service and would tell some of the apps to stop sharing sensitive information.

"Sharing information across apps on your iPhone or Android device is how mobile advertising works and is industry standard practice," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill.

"The issue is how apps use information for online advertising," the spokesperson said. "We require app developers to be clear with their users about the information they are sharing with us, and we prohibit app developers from sending us sensitive data. We also take steps to detect and remove data that should not be shared with us."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called on state agencies "to immediately investigate this invasion of consumer privacy" in a statement on Friday. 

"The recent report that Facebook is accessing far more personal information of smartphone users than previously reported, including health and other sensitive data, represents an invasion of privacy and breach of consumer trust. According to the report, a wide range of apps are sending highly personal data to the social media giant apparently without users' consent and even when users are not logged in through Facebook. This practice, which in some cases clearly violates Facebook's own business terms, is an outrageous abuse of privacy," Cuomo said.

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