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Some NHS-backed apps send unencrypted user data

A couple of health apps backed by the National Health Service (NHS) are sending unencrypted data about their users over the internet, putting people at risk of identity theft and fraud, a new research suggests.

The research by the Imperial College London looked at how 79 health apps, backed by the NHS, handled data sharing. According to a report by The Guardian, the apps were tested back in 2013, over a six-month period. The study found that "70 transmitted data over the internet and 38 had a specific privacy policy that did not state what information would be sent”.

The study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, also found 23 sent identifying details without protection, of which four apps sent both personal and medical information unencrypted.

Lead researcher Kit Huckvale said: “It is known that apps available through general marketplaces had poor and variable privacy practices, for example, failing to disclose personal data collected and sent to a third party.

“However, it was assumed that accredited apps – those that had been badged as trustworthy by organisational programmes such as the UK’s NHS health apps library – would be free of such issues.”

“Our study suggests that the privacy of users of accredited apps may have been unnecessarily put at risk, and challenges claims of trustworthiness offered by the current national accreditation scheme being run through the NHS.

“The results of the study provide an opportunity for action to address these concerns, and minimise the risk of a future privacy breach. To help with this, we have already supplied our findings and data to the NHS health apps library.”