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Apps – privacy, personal data and generation Y

Tell someone you specialise in data protection and watch their eyes glaze over. The perception is that it isn’t often that data protection work throws up interesting questions about the way we live our lives, but I have recently had such an example come my way. 

It concerned advice on the privacy implications of one of the so-called lifestyle and well-being apps. Anyone even remotely interested in health and wellbeing cannot avoid being aware of the proliferation of lifestyle and wellbeing apps flooding on to the scene at the moment.

The risks inherent in these apps from a privacy and data protection perspective may seem obvious, but there seems to be a generational difference on the way users view this.  This can make things tricky for developers who may not immediately grasp the importance of the issues.

Clearly regulators are waking up to the risks and this is no doubt what has led the European Data Protection Supervisor (EPDS) to publish an opinion on mobile health (mHealth) entitled “Reconciling technological innovation with data protection.”

Advice for app developers

The EDPS has made a number of key recommendations which app designers would do well to take on board in this fast-developing area.

Future legislation is likely to allocate responsibility for the way personal data is processed to designers and device manufacturers and suppliers.

One of the keys to getting privacy issues right in the development of apps is to carry out a Privacy impact assessment.  This should ensure that privacy and data protection are built-in during the process, taking into account all aspects including personal behaviour and privacy of personal communication.  Privacy is more than data protection.

The regulators are keen on requiring user-friendly privacy notices and options being embedded in the apps.  However, anecdotal evidence backed up by some recent research suggests that there may be an issue in getting generation Y users to take on board the relevance to them of how their data is used.

However little attention your users might pay to how their personal data is processed within their lifestyle apps, you can be sure that the regulators will be taking a keen interest.

Posted on August 4, 2015

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