Warning: *privacy not included with this product
WebMD, everyone's favorite website to go to check if that headache they're having is actually cancer, also makes apps for your phone. There's the general WebMD app, which sounds like it could turn anyone into a hypochondriac, there's the WebMD Allergy app, and then there's WebMD's pregnancy app (they make a baby app too). WebMD Pregnancy is only available for iOS users (sorry Android folks) and is free to download and use. The app offers what many other pregnancy apps do — week-by-week pregnancy monitoring, baby development tracking, a symptom tracker, weight and blood pressure tracking, kick counter, belly photo album, contraction timer, doctor appointment calendar, and, of course, lots of WebMD articles to help you understand pregnancy. What does the WebMD app look like from a privacy perspective? Well, not to scare you (ha! who hasn't gone to WebMD and not gotten scared?), but it has us pretty worried.
What could happen if something goes wrong?
You know the number one rule of the internet, "If something is free, then you're the product"? Yeah, we'd say that very much applies here with WebMD's pregnancy tracking app. The app is free, as is all that free health advice you can get on their website. Which is great. What is not great is that means you're being tracked and targeted based on your health questions and app usage. WebMD accepts advertising from third parties on it's own WebMD Network. That typically comes with lots of tracking of you around WebMD properties, including the WebMD pregnancy app. It also seems WebMD shares, and possibly sells, information on their users to third parties for advertising purposes. Again, WebMD's product is free, so the personal and usage data they collect on you is the business asset they get in return to monetize for lots of advertising. Is this the way the internet pretty much works these days? Unfortunately, yes. Is it rather scary when you're sharing personal information about your pregnancy and other health concerns and symptoms? Absolutely!
And WebMD does say the can collect a good deal of personal information on users. Things like name, address, telephone number, gender, email address and date of birth, precise location, health-related information such as symptoms, app and website usage data, unique device identifier, and more. They go on to say they can collect even more data about your from external, third party sources to combine with the data they already have on you to be able to target you even better with ads both on and off WebMD services. They say the data they collect this way includes "age, gender, demographic, geographic, personal interests, product purchase activity or other information." So, WebMD and their pregnancy app are likely collecting a whole bunch of data on you from lots of places. The more they know about you, the better.
WebMD says they can share your information with a pretty large group of third parties including, "subsidiaries, affiliates and companies acquired by or merged with us and our affiliates," "third party companies and contractors that help us provide the Service," and third party advertising service providers.
And how do they say they can us this data? Well, for lots and lots of targeted, interested-based advertising, of course. Also for things like personalization, to market good and services, and do research and to offer "lead generation services" (basically, helping business find new customers based on demographics they collect). Reminder, you are the product.
Tips to protect yourself
- When you no longer use the app, go to "Delete account" in the app menu
- Turn off precise location sharing!
- Chose a strong password! You may use a password control tool like 1Password, KeePass etc.
- 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)
What can be used to sign up?
What data does the company collect?
Only if you chose to create account: name, address, telephone number, gender, email address and date of birth
How does the company use this data?
How can you control your data?
What is the company’s known track record of protecting users’ data?
Child Privacy Information
Can this product be used offline?
User-friendly privacy information?
Links to privacy information
Does this product meet our Minimum Security Standards?
How top health websites are sharing sensitive data with advertisersFinancial Times
Guess What? HIPAA Isn’t a Medical Privacy LawConsumer Reports
WebMD Secretly Records Visitors to Its Website, Claims Class Action LawsuitTop Class Actions
Of course big tech is tracking your WebMD visitsMashable
Best Pregnancy Apps for 2022Forbes Health
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