Privacy, Permissions, and the Health App Ecosystem: A Stack Overflow Exploration


Health data is considered to be sensitive and personal; both governments and software platforms have enacted specific measures to protect it. Consumer apps that collect health data are becoming more popular, but raise new privacy concerns as they collect unnecessary data, share it with third parties, and track users. However, developers of these apps are not necessarily knowingly endangering users’ privacy; some may simply face challenges working with health features.

To scope these challenges, we qualitatively analyzed 269 privacy-related posts on Stack Overflow by developers of health apps for Android- and iOS-based systems. We found that health-specific access control structures (e.g., enhanced requirements for permissions and authentication) underlie several privacy-related challenges developers face. The specific nature of problems often differed between the platforms, for example additional verification steps for Android developers, or confusing feedback about incorrectly formulated permission scopes for iOS. Developers also face problems introduced by third-party libraries. Official documentation plays a key part in understanding privacy requirements, but in some cases, may itself cause confusion.

We discuss implications of our findings and propose ways to improve developers’ experience of working with health-related features—and consequently to improve the privacy of their apps’ end users.

European Symposium on Usable Security (EuroUSEC)
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