Summary: Most smartphones have a built-in health app — in addition to any that you might have downloaded. But keeping your personal information private can be tricky — here are our best tips for knowing what you should (and shouldn’t) keep on your phone and how you can adjust your app settings to fit your needs.
So much of our lives are stored in our phones. It’s where many of us keep meeting reminders, grocery lists, cherished photos, and more. Our phones can even help us keep tabs on our health. If you have wearable tech (think: an Apple Watch, FitBit, or Garmin), you probably have an app that goes along with it. But your phone keeps tabs on you even without any new downloads.
What information do the health apps collect? And is there certain information you should or shouldn’t store on your phone?
Your Phone’s Built-In Health App
Both iPhones and Androids come with pre-installed health apps. iPhone’s version is simply called Health while Android recently launched CommonHealth and Samsung devices come with Samsung Health. The names are different, but the data collected is similar.
Apple Health automatically collects data such as daily steps, headphone audio levels, walking asymmetry, steadiness, and more. But there’s plenty of additional information you can enter, too, including your sleep schedule and history, body measurements, menstrual cycle information, and more. If you pair your Apple Watch with your iPhone, you’ll get even more information, like details about loud sounds, hard falls, and changes in heart rate.
Similarly, Samsung Health tracks steps, active minutes, heart rates, menstrual cycles, and sleep. Some devices can also track snoring, ambient noise levels while sleeping, blood glucose levels, blood oxygen, and blood pressure. Of course, you can go into your settings and change what information is collected and who it is shared with. Here’s how to do it for Apple and Android.
What health information should be stored in your phone?
You can’t predict when a medical emergency is going to happen to you — but chances are, your phone will be with you if one does happen. It can be helpful to have some of your basic health information in your phone so that emergency responders can access it if you’re unable to answer their questions.
Think things like:
- Your name and age
- Your blood type
- Your medication names, doses, and schedules — this should be medication for more relevant conditions, like heart problems, rather than vitamins or supplements
- Any chronic medical conditions
- Any allergies
- Phone numbers and name of your emergency contacts — this can be a family member or friend or even your doctor
You can also include additional details, like if you’re an organ donor. There are apps available to download for more detailed records, but most smartphones have a basic medical ID function. Check under the settings for your built-in health app or do a quick Google search for your specific type of phone. The idea behind a medical ID is that it can be accessed from your lock screen. That way, if a stranger or medical professional is trying to help you, they can call an emergency contact and discover if you have any relevant illnesses, like epilepsy.
If you’re using a medical ID that’s accessible from your lock screen, don’t store any information that could be used to steal your identity, such as your social security number, home address, or banking information.
How to Choose a Reputable Health App
If you are looking for an app that’s a bit more robust, be sure to choose one that’s as secure as possible. But it’s important to remember that the more places you store your sensitive information, the more opportunities cybercriminals have to access it. If there’s anything you absolutely do not want someone else knowing, consider not storing it online at all or only storing it one place.
When it comes to choosing a health app, the FTC has reminded people that health apps are not necessarily held to health privacy laws, such as HIPAA, that doctors are. Here’s what to look for in an app:
- Privacy protections: Your health app should have a privacy notice that explains what information the app collects and how it uses and shares your information with other companies. Does it tell you why it shares information or limit what others can do with it?
- Adjust your settings: Most apps default to settings that encourage sharing, but you should be able to change the settings to be more protective of your data. This may include things like location sharing.
- Update your app: We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again — updating your apps and operating systems are important steps to staying more secure. Not only do these updates include new features, they also have security patches for known weak spots.
- Check out the app creator and reviews: Making sure the app is from a real creator will help prevent you from downloading a fake app that’s used to steal your information. Most well-known apps will also have a lot of reviews, so you can always look at those, too.
If you’re using your phone to store personal information — whether it’s medical records or banking information — be sure to check out our best security tips to keep your entire family safer online.