Apple Watch, HealthKit APIs facing early questions concerning user privacy

Harry Tunnecliffe
16 September, 2014
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Apple-Watch-can-cant-macworld-australiaMany months ahead of its expected early 2015 release, the Apple Watch has been publicly questioned in the US over the privacy for users of the new wearable device. The questions came in the form of a letter that was sent to Apple CEO Tim Cook, written by Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen. The questions focus on the new HealthKit application programming interface (API).

First reported by MacRumors, the letter outlines several issues that the Attorney General has with the Apple Watch, and seeks an explanation on the data that is collected, stored and protected. There are also questions that concern how the data is used by both Apple and third-party app developers once it is collected, and how Apple will be monitoring all aspects of the new HealthKit APIs.

Below is an excerpt from the letter:

  • “Whether Apple will allow consumers to store personal and health information on Apple Watch itself and/or on its servers, and if so, how information will be safeguarded;
  • If and how Apple will review application privacy policies to ensure that users’ health information is safeguarded;
  • If and how Apple intends to enforce policies that require the rejection of applications that provide diagnoses, treatment advice, or control hardware designed to diagnose or treat medical conditions that do not provide written regulatory approval;
  • What information Apple Watch and its applications will collect from users, and how Apple and application developers will obtain consent to collect and share such information from these individuals; and 
  • How Apple intends to monitor and enforce applications’ compliance with its guidelines concerning users’ health information.” 

Several of the answers to Jepsen’s questions can be found in Apple’s Review Guidelines for developers. The guidelines state that apps without regulatory approval will not be able to provide any sort of diagnosis, treatment advice or control hardware designed to diagnose or treat medical conditions.

The Apple document also points out that users’ health information that is gathered will not be stored on iCloud and will not be allowed to be used for advertising or other data mining purposes without user consent. User data is stated as being permitted for use in “improving health, medical, and fitness management, or for the purpose of medical research.”

It is not clear how Apple plans to safeguard Apple Watch users’ health information through the enforcement and monitoring of its privacy policies surrounding apps using the new HealthKit APIs.

There is yet to be a similar public questioning of the Apple Watch and associated HealthKit APIs regarding users information privacy in Australia. The launch date and pricing of the Apple Watch in Australia is yet to be announced.

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