At an unknown time in probably Q1 next year, at an unknown price, the Apple Watch is coming. The Apple Watch promises, among other things, a centralized way to track all your health statistics. That’s got some ears perking up, from e-discovery experts to, now, the FTC.
Citing two anonymous sources, Reuters reported yesterday that Apple and the FTC were in talks over the privacy of all that juicy health data the Apple Watch will undoubtedly collect. In closed-door meetings, the FTC has allegedly asked for assurances that third parties or marketers won’t be able to access a user’s health data.
Officially, Apple has strong privacy protections in place. Its App Store submission guidelines for apps using the HealthKit API don’t allow apps to store health information in iCloud or use health information for advertising purposes.
Yes, the ‘E’ Word
But privacy isn’t the only problem. The Apple Watch monitors and stores health care data that could be at issue in a lawsuit — meaning that our e-discovery woes are entering a whole new universe. As the Apple Watch might say if it were Jack Nicholson, "Wait ’til they get a load of me."
It’s unknown yet (to the public, at least) just what or how the Apple Watch stores health information, but lawyers will definitely need to understand the technology if an employer subpoenas it in a workers’ compensation or disability claim. And getting that data isn’t as easy as hooking the siphon up to the company’s server. Did we mention data retention might be a problem? At least some law student is going to have a heck of a law review note to write about all this.
Who Can You Trust?
Certainly Apple is successful enough that it doesn’t need to rely on surrendering users’ private information to advertisers in order to make money. But Apple’s not the problem; it’s the app makers, who use apps either to collect information or to up-sell.
It’s hard to believe a company whose business model once included children mistakenly buying in-app purchases of hundreds of dollars’ worth of "Smurfberries" would be above finding a way to monetize consumer health data. Reuters points out that the FTC discovered 12 mobile health apps "were sharing user information with 76 different parties, such as advertisers." In a few instances, the health data were transmitted along with users’ names and email addresses, reported Ad Age.
So if you thought tracking location data was bad, maybe sit out a little while to see how this Apple Watch thing plays out.