Locking it down: The privacy and security of mobile medication apps

Can Pharm J (Ott). 2016 Dec 6;150(1):60-66. doi: 10.1177/1715163516680226. eCollection 2017 Jan-Feb.


Objective: To explore the privacy and security of free medication applications (apps) available to Canadian consumers.

Methods: The authors searched the Canadian iTunes store for iOS apps and the Canadian Google Play store for Android apps related to medication use and management. Using an Apple iPad Air 2 and a Google Nexus 7 tablet, 2 reviewers generated a list of apps that met the following inclusion criteria: free, available in English, intended for consumer use and related to medication management. Using a standard data collection form, 2 reviewers independently coded each app for the presence/absence of passwords, the storage of personal health information, a privacy statement, encryption, remote wipe and third-party sharing. A Cohen's Kappa statistic was used to measure interrater agreement.

Results: Of the 184 apps evaluated, 70.1% had no password protection or sign-in system. Personal information, including name, date of birth and gender, was requested by 41.8% (77/184) of apps. Contact information, such as address, phone number and email, was requested by 25% (46/184) of apps. Finally, personal health information, other than medication name, was requested by 89.1% (164/184) of apps. Only 34.2% (63/184) of apps had a privacy policy in place.

Conclusion: Most free medication apps offer very limited authentication and privacy protocols. As a result, the onus currently falls on patients to input information in these apps selectively and to be aware of the potential privacy issues. Until more secure systems are built, health care practitioners cannot fully support patients wanting to use such apps.