How private are your fitness apps? 5 tips to keep them more secure

3 min read


Fitness apps may finally be catching on, but their privacy settings are stuck behind the starting line.

Just a few weeks ago the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services released a report urging popular tech companies to add more privacy settings in their health apps.

While fitness wearables like Fitbit originally just recorded steps, newer devices can record everything from your geographic location to heart rate, sleep patterns, calories consumed, and more. This may be great for users to keep track of their health and diet habits, but it’s even better for advertisers and insurance companies.

Just imagine a company having the ability to approve or deny a claim simply based on your fitness app’s records…yeah, it’s possible.

For some apps, it’s fitness first, privacy second

Here’s where things go from scary to downright terrifying: In a report from Canada’s Open Effect and the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, experts were able to show how hackers can not only see what data your fitness app is sending out but also alter it.

The report, titled “Every Step You Fake”, calls on tech companies to include better privacy settings in their devices. According to the researchers:

“Consumers deserve to be better informed about fitness tracking systems’ privacy and security practices.”

ExpressVPN agrees, so have compiled a list of tips to help improve your privacy while getting your work out on.

Tip 1: Use an alias when creating a new profile

Your smartwatch is tracking you, and it’s still unclear what information is being sent. In order to protect your privacy, ExpressVPN suggests you use an alias to create a new profile on your app. Also, turning off Bluetooth and using a stronger password are easy steps you can take to potentially thwart would-be stalkers.

Tip 2: Check which data your fitness app can access and what it shares

Sharing how many steps you took during lunch is one thing, but sharing your irregular bowel movements after that lunchtime taco bowl is probably way, way too far. Make sure you know what information your app is sharing, and make sure you restrict it to as little as possible. If you can, stick to the basic settings, and restrict access to data you don’t think the app needs.

Tip 3: Always, always update your apps

New updates are annoying, but they exist for a reason. Every time your app asks you to update it’s usually for one of two reasons: either there’s a new patch to cover a security flaw, or there’s a newer, better app available. Either way, taking a few minutes to update your app is a small price to pay for the big boost in privacy.

Tip 4: Make sure your apps use HTTPS

While almost every fitness app today uses Wi-Fi to share data, not all of them do so on a secure server. Not using HTTPS is a rookie mistake, and ExpressVPN was surprised to see how many popular apps, like the Garmin Vivosmart, fail to use it. Make sure your app is using a secure server to transfer and record your data. If they aren’t, it may be time to find a new app.

Tip 5: Check periodically to see if your data is accurate

In the report above, experts were able to ‘trick’ some apps into generating false data. This could not only affect your personal health goals but also leave your information at the whim of third parties. When you look over at your data, make sure the information is accurate. If it’s not, chances are someone else may be tampering with it.

Stay fit. Stay healthy. Stay private.

It’s not that you should avoid using fitness apps — it’s that you should do so with caution.

Following the tips above will help you stay fit while also staying secure.

Featured image: Unsplash (image has been edited)

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