Apple limits developers’ use of user data in Healthkit


Apple has been gearing up for months to release the latest version of its mobile operating system, and the company has outlined rules that strictly limit developers’ use of personal health data that will be collected within the new iOS 8.

Apple has its own “health” app that was announced as part of iOS 8 earlier this year, and according to the company, the app is supposed to collect data from various health and fitness apps and put the information all in one place, rather than users having to hunt for different data across different apps. Healthkit is the tool for developers to design apps that work together and talk to each other via the iPhone.

Part of that communication includes access to that collected health information on the iPhone — information such as heart rate, exercise levels, medications and more — and the ability to integrate that information into their own app offerings, such as allowing a fitness app to gather daily calorie intake information from a nutrition app. In its public statements on the offering, Apple has said that users will be the ones who choose which health information to share, either with their doctors or with developers.

Apple has banned the sale of that health information to third parties, according to press reports, and the company’s Healthkit rules for app developers. Among the rules:

  • Apps are not allowed to store users’ health information in iCloud.
  • Apps “may not use user data gathered from the Healthkit API for advertising or other use-based data mining purposes other than improving health, medical and fitness management, or for the purpose of medical research.”
  • Apps must ask for user consent in order to share user data acquired via Healthkit.
  • Apps must provide a privacy policy or face rejection by Apple.

According to Apple’s pre-release notes for developers, the company says that Healthkit “makes it easy for apps to share health-related information, whether that information comes from devices connected to an iOS device or is entered manually by the user. The user’s health information is stored in a centralized and secure location. The user can then see all of that data displayed in the health app.

“When your app implements support for Healthkit, it gets access to health-related information for the user and can provide information about the user, without needing to implement support for specific fitness-tracking devices. The user decides which data should be shared with your app. Once data is shared with your app, your app can register to be notified when that data changes; you have fine-grained control over when your app is notified. For example, you could request that your app be notified whenever the user takes his or her blood pressure, or be notified only when a measurement shows that the user’s blood pressure is too high.”

WebMD has already said that it is working on an app that would be supported by Healthkit, as has the Mayo Clinic. WebMD said during its most recent quarterly call that 36% of its traffic comes from U.S. smartphones, with an additional 8% coming from U.S. tablets. WebMD released a new version of its iPhone app in June that includes its “Healthy Target” offering. According to published reports, the app aggregates data from wireless wearables and integrates the user’s data with content from WebMD to help consumers set goals and measure progress, and it is expected to rely on Apple Healthkit as a data source once it is released.


About Author

Kelly Hill

Editor, Big Data, Analytics, Test & Measurement
Kelly Hill currently reports on network test and measurement, as well as the use of big data and analytics. She first covered the wireless industry for RCR Wireless News in 2005, focusing on carriers and mobile virtual network operators, then took a few years’ hiatus and returned to RCR Wireless News to write about heterogeneous networks and network infrastructure. Kelly is an Ohio native with a masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, where she focused on science writing and multimedia. She has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian and The Canton Repository. Follow her on Twitter: @khillrcr