Apps like FitBit and Apple Health collect some of the most sensitive data you have. Here’s how to control what they can see, and what they can do with it.
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Whether you’re a Fitbit user worried about Google’s recent $2.1 billion purchase of the company or just generally privacy conscious, you should pay attention to where your health and fitness data goes, and who has access. It’s among the most sensitive data you have.
While you unfortunately can’t control where all of your health information goes—as a Google partnership with Ascension, the nation’s second-largest health system, has unfortunately proved—you can still dedicate a few minutes to health data audit, making sure your calorie burns and step counts are completely private. Or if not, that they’re only shared by choice.
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It shouldn’t take long, and it follows the same principles as any other data privacy audit: Check which data is being collected, which parts of it are public, and how many of your apps can access to it.
We can’t cover every single fitness app out there, but these are the main players. If you’re using something else, you should be able to use a similar process to check what information is being logged and how it’s being used.
Apple is very keen to emphasize how highly it prioritizes your privacy. Data in the Health app is encrypted both on your devices and on Apple’s servers, and if you have two-factor authentication turned on for your account (which you should), not even Apple can look at the health logs you’ve built up.
Note that the permissions on the next screen will be split up into write permissions—the app can add data to Apple Health—and read permissions, which means the the app can take and use data from Apple Health. You have the option to disable any permissions, to disconnect the app completely, and to fully delete all the data the app has collected—at least in terms of what has been shared with Apple Health.
Speaking of deleting data, pick Devices from the previous menu, then choose a device from the list, and you can erase everything Apple Health holds on you with a couple of taps. You can also delete individual records, rather than everything at once, by selecting the individual categories listed.
The data you share with other people is something else to consider. If you’ve set up activity sharing with a friend through your Apple Watch and you’re no longer than friendly, you need to open the Watch app on your phone, then choose My Watch and Friends. Tap on the friends you no longer want to share your stats with to remove them.
There’s no master setting to stop Apple Health collecting data from your devices once you’ve turned it on, but you can effectively stop it by blocking its access to the sensors in your phone. From iOS Settings, tap Privacy, then Motion & Fitness, then turn off the Fitness Tracking option.
If you want to see the data Google Fit has on you, open up the Google Fit app on your Android phone. (If it’s not installed, nothing will have been collected.) Tap Profile, then the cog icon on the top right. On the next screen you can disable activity tracking and the location logging that goes along with it on two separate toggle switches.
Tap Manage your data then Manage data to take a look at all the health and fitness data Google Fit has collected about you to date. Unfortunately you can’t view the data here—you need to go back to the front of the app for that—but you can erase data in any category such as heart rate or steps. To get rid of everything, tap Clear all data then confirm your choice.
It’s also important to check which apps can write data to and read data from Google Fit. From the front of the settings menu, right after you tap the cog icon, select Manage connected apps to see all the apps that currently have permission to interact with Google Fit. Select an entry, then choose Disconnect to revoke these permissions.
Google Fit doesn’t have much of a social aspect, or any kind of public profile, so you don’t have anything to worry about on that score. No one besides Google and your connected apps are going to be able to take a peek at your fitness stats unless they somehow get ahold of your phone.
Unlike Apple Health, you can uninstall Google Fit from your phone if you want to make sure it’s not collecting any data on you. If you’re logging data from a connected Wear OS smartwatch and want to stop this from happening, meanwhile, open the Fit app, scroll down to Settings, then tap Sign out.
If you use Fitbit, you have a profile page, which your friends can see if you connect up with them. In fact, anyone with a Fitbit account can see it, if they’re looking specifically for you. To manage what’s visible on this profile through the app, tap your avatar on the top left, then Privacy, then choose what’s public and what’s private.
Back on the previous screen you can select Manage data to do just that: pick Manage third-party apps, and you can disconnect anything that’s been hooked up to Fitbit and that can access the health and fitness data that you’re logging.
The other option here is Delete account, which, as you might expect, wipes everything you’ve ever done with Fitbit off the record, including from Fitbit’s servers. If you’re really worried about what Google might be planning in terms of data collection and targeted advertising, then this is one of the options you might be weighing up.
You don’t get any options for restricting what Fitbit can track, or deleting just certain categories of data: it’s all or nothing. Once you’ve set up a Fitbit tracker or smartwatch, it’ll track everything unless you remove it from the Fitbit app entirely.
Fitbit includes quite a few social features for challenging your friends and sharing your goals and achievements with other people. To manage the people you’re connected to—and the people who can see the data you’re sharing)—in the Fitbit app tap your avatar, then your name. From there you can remove or block friends.
Author: DAVID NIELD