Apple Watch

Apple Watch

Apple
Wi-Fi Bluetooth

Review date: Nov. 1, 2023

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Mozilla says

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People voted: Somewhat creepy

The Apple Watch still reigns supreme in the world of smart watches. You've got all your email, text, phone calls, music, podcasts, and more right there on your wrist (as long as you have an iPhone, of course). And it tracks lots of health data. There's heart rate, sleep tracking, steps, calories, blood oxygen levels, ECG, fall detection, and more. Apple has a pretty good track record of taking all this very personal data and keeping it safe, which we appreciate. But because “and more” can include menstrual cycle tracking, we took an even closer look at the Apple Watch’s privacy and security since Roe vs. Wade was overturned in the US in 2022 -- which allowed states to make access to abortion illegal. Still, Apple held up pretty well overall. They have a pretty good history of standing up to law enforcement requests for their users' data.

What could happen if something goes wrong?

Apple does a pretty good job with privacy and security as a company. But, like life, hackers find a way! So Apple has had some pretty serious security issues. In 2023, Apple released fixes for three different vulnerabilities that made it possible for bad actors to hack Apple devices. In 2022, they had a security flaw that could allow hackers to take complete control of iPhones, iPads, and Macs. Earlier that year, Apple also gave up data to hackers who forged emergency data requests from law enforcement. Eesh. Back in 2021, another bad security vulnerability could have allowed bad actors to record calls and messages and even turn the device camera and microphone on without the user knowing. Eesh. The good thing with Apple and security is, they seem to take these security breaches seriously, jump and fix them immediately, and communicate pretty well with users on what they need to do to stay safe. So keep those devices updated, folks!

On the privacy front, this device does track a whole bunch of biometric data including your heart rate, blood oxygen levels, menstrual cycle, hearing, breathing, and your heart's electrical signals. That's a lot of personal information gathered in one place. A reminder that sharing a lot of your intimate personal data always carries some risk. Like when, back in 2021, the health data for over 61 million fitness tracker users, including both Fitbit and Apple, was exposed when a third party company that allowed users to sync their health data from their fitness trackers did not secure the data properly. Personal information such as names, birthdates, weight, height, gender, and geographical location for Apple and other fitness tracker users was left exposed because the company didn't password protect or encrypt their database. This is a great reminder that yes, while Apple might do a good job with their own security, anytime you sync or share that data with anyone else, it could be vulnerable. I don't know about you, but I don't need the world to know my weight and where I live. That’s really dang creepy.

And given Apple Health data can be synced with lots of third-party apps and companies, well, don't do that. The more you share this data, the more likely it can be that it will be vulnerable. Limit that sharing as much as you can!

The risk of your health data being exposed is especially concerning if it could be used against you in a court of law, like in some US states where abortion is illegal. But Apple does do a pretty good job with privacy, so that's good when it comes to using the Apple Health app for period and reproductive health tracking. And if users take the steps Apple recommends to protect this data, it should be fairly safe out there on the Cloud. Apple says, "When your phone is locked with a passcode, Touch ID, or Face ID, all your health and fitness data in the Health app — other than your Medical ID — is encrypted. Any Health data backed up to iCloud is encrypted both in transit and on our servers. And if you use a recent version of watchOS and iOS and turn on two-factor authentication and a passcode, your health and activity data will be backed up in a way that Apple can’t read." So lock those phones down, set up two-factor authentication, disable iCloud sharing of Apple Health data, and don't share any of those passcodes with anyone, ever.

Finally, Apple does have a pretty general statement about how they might share data with law enforcement in their privacy policy, which is kinda a bummer. They say, "We may also disclose information about you if we determine that for purposes of national security, law enforcement, or other issues of public importance, disclosure is necessary or appropriate." Fortunately, Apple does have a pretty good track record at pushing back against law enforcement requests for data.

What’s the worst that could happen? Well, while using an Apple Watch and Apple Health to track your period might be safer than other options, it's good to remember that it's still far from perfect. You should take all the precautions possible to protect your data and only share what you'd feel safe being on the internet since nothing is 100% secure.

Tips to protect yourself

  • Follow Apple's advice on how to secure Health data.
  • Restrict the amount of personal information like heart rate data is shared by going to the Apple Watch app on your iPhone under Privacy > Health
  • Be very careful what third party companies you consent to share you health data with. If you do decided to share your health data with another company, read their privacy policy to see how they protect, secure, and share or sell your data.
  • Use your device privacy controls to limit access to your personal information via app (do not give access to your camera, microphone, images and videos)
  • Keep your app regularly updated
  • Limit ad tracking via your device (eg on iPhone go to Privacy -> Advertising -> Limit ad tracking) and biggest ad networks (for Google, go to Google account and turn off ad personalization)
  • If you no longer use your Apple Watch or give it to someone else, consider erasing your data. Open the Settings app on your Apple Watch. Go to General > Reset, tap Erase All Content and Settings, then enter your passcode.
  • mobile

Can it snoop on me? information

Camera

Device: No

App: Yes

Microphone

Device: Yes

App: Yes

Tracks location

Device: Yes

App: Yes

What can be used to sign up?

An Apple ID is required to sign up.

What data does the company collect?

How does the company use this data?

Apple Privacy Policy

"Apple may receive personal data about you from other individuals, from businesses or third parties acting at your direction, from our partners who work with us to provide our products and services and assist us in security and fraud prevention, and from other lawful sources.

- Individuals. Apple may collect data about you from other individuals — for example, if that individual has sent you a product or gift card, invited you to participate in an Apple service or forum, or shared content with you.
- At Your Direction. You may direct other individuals or third parties to share data with Apple. For example, you may direct your mobile carrier to share data about your carrier account with Apple for account activation, or for your loyalty program to share information about your participation so that you can earn rewards for Apple purchases.
- Apple Partners. We may also validate the information you provide — for example, when creating an Apple ID, with a third party for security, and for fraud-prevention purposes.

For research and development purposes, we may use datasets such as those that contain images, voices, or other data that could be associated with an identifiable person. <...> When using such datasets for research and development, we do not attempt to reidentify individuals who may appear therein."

"Apple does not sell your personal data including as 'sale' is defined in Nevada and California. Apple also does not 'share' your personal data as that term is defined in California."

"Apple may share personal data with Apple-affiliated companies, service providers who act on our behalf, our partners, developers, and publishers, or others at your direction. Apple does not share personal data with third parties for their own marketing purposes."

"Apple uses personal data to power our services, to process your transactions, to communicate with you, for security and fraud prevention, and to comply with law. We may also use personal data for other purposes with your consent."

"Ad Targeting Information. To see information about you that may be used to deliver targeted ads by Apple’s advertising platform, including the segments that you are in."

How can you control your data?

Apple Privacy Policy

"At Apple, we respect your ability to know, access, correct, transfer, restrict the processing of, and delete your personal data. We have provided these rights to our global customer base..."

"There may be situations where we cannot grant your request — for example, if you ask us to delete your transaction data and Apple is legally obligated to keep a record of that transaction to comply with law. We may also decline to grant a request where doing so would undermine our legitimate use of data for anti-fraud and security purposes, such as when you request deletion of an account that is being investigated for security concerns. Other reasons your privacy request may be denied are if it jeopardizes the privacy of others, is frivolous or vexatious, or would be extremely impractical."

"Apple retains personal data only for so long as necessary to fulfill the purposes for which it was collected, including as described in this Privacy Policy or in our service-specific privacy notices, or as required by law. We will retain your personal data for the period necessary to fulfill the purposes outlined in this Privacy Policy and our service-specific privacy summaries. When assessing retention periods, we first carefully examine whether it is necessary to retain the personal data collected and, if retention is required, work to retain the personal data for the shortest possible period permissible under law."

What is the company’s known track record of protecting users’ data?

Needs Improvement

In July 2023, Apple and Amazon were fined by Spain antitrust watchdog.

In January 2023, Apple was fined €8M in French privacy case.

In 2022, Apple identified and patched serious security vulnerabiiliites, one that could allow hackers take full control of iOS devices.

In 2022, Apple allegedly gave user data to hackers who faked being law enforcement and forged requests for information.

In 2021, Apple had a recent serious spyware security vulnerability called Pegaus that infected iPhones and other Apple devices.

In 2021, a major data leak was reported of 61 million fitness tracker data records, including Apple's Healthkit data, by the third party company GetHealth. In September 2021, a group of security researchers discovered GetHealth had an unsecured database containing over 61 million records related to wearable technology and fitness services. GetHealth accessed health data belonging to wearable device users around the world and leaked it in an non-password protected, unencrypted database. The list contained names, birthdates, weight, height, gender, and geographical location, as well as other medical data, such as blood pressure.

Child Privacy Information

Apple Privacy Policy

"Apple understands the importance of safeguarding the personal data of children, which we consider to be an individual under the age of 13 or the equivalent age as specified by law in your jurisdiction. That is why Apple has implemented additional processes and protections to help keep children's personal data safe.

To access certain Apple services, a child must have a child Apple ID. A child Apple ID may be created by the parent or, in the case of a Managed Apple ID, by the child's educational institution."

Can this product be used offline?

Yes

User-friendly privacy information?

Yes

Apple's privacy policies aren't exactly easy to read, but they are better than most.

Links to privacy information

Does this product meet our Minimum Security Standards? information

Yes

Encryption

Yes

Uses encryption both in transit and at rest.

Strong password

Yes

Security updates

Yes

Manages vulnerabilities

Yes

Apple has a bug bounty program.

Privacy policy

Yes

Does the product use AI? information

Yes

Some of Apple's AI research can be found at https://machinelearning.apple.com/.

Is this AI untrustworthy?

Can’t Determine

What kind of decisions does the AI make about you or for you?

Apple states in its privacy policy, "Apple does not use algorithms or profiling to make any decision that would significantly affect you without the opportunity for human review." Apple employs machine learning in many different ways, from using it to to improve Siri to using it to sharpen the photos that you take.

Is the company transparent about how the AI works?

Yes

Does the user have control over the AI features?

Yes

*privacy not included

Dive Deeper

  • Amazon and Apple fined $218 million by Spain antitrust watchdog
    CNN Business Link opens in a new tab
  • Apple fined €8M in French privacy case
    Politico Link opens in a new tab
  • Apple says it prioritizes privacy. Experts say gaps remain
    The Guardian Link opens in a new tab
  • Apple’s Privacy Mythology Doesn’t Match Reality
    Wired Link opens in a new tab
  • Apple’s Illusion of Privacy Is Getting Harder to Sell
    The New York Times Link opens in a new tab
  • 61M Fitbit, Apple Users Had Data Exposed in Wearable Device Data Breach
    Health IT Security Link opens in a new tab
  • Apple warns of security flaws in iPhones, iPads and Macs
    NPR Link opens in a new tab
  • Apple and Meta Gave User Data to Hackers Who Used Forged Legal Requests
    Bloomberg Link opens in a new tab
  • Security News This Week: Fake Cops Scammed Apple and Meta to Get User Data
    Wired Link opens in a new tab
  • Apple Issues Emergency Security Updates to Close a Spyware Flaw
    The New York Times Link opens in a new tab
  • Improving Siri’s privacy protections
    Apple Link opens in a new tab
  • Apple resumes human reviews of Siri audio
    Associated Press Link opens in a new tab
  • Apple apologises for allowing workers to listen to Siri recordings
    The Guardian Link opens in a new tab
  • Apple’s AI plan: a thousand small conveniences
    The Verge Link opens in a new tab
  • Apple vs. Feds: Is iPhone Privacy a Basic Human Right?
    Harvard Business School Working Knowledge Link opens in a new tab
  • How can US law enforcement agencies access your data? Let’s count the ways
    The Guardian Link opens in a new tab
  • How to ensure Apple Health cycle tracking data stays private
    AppleInsider Link opens in a new tab
  • Should You Worry About Data From Your Period-Tracking App Being Used Against You?
    Kaiser Health News Link opens in a new tab
  • Period tracking apps could see their data legally protected; how to secure yours
    9to5Mac Link opens in a new tab

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