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FTC reportedly interested in privacy of Apple Watch health data

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The US Federal Trade Commission has been meeting with Apple as it looks to ensure that private health data collected by the company's phones, tablets, and upcoming smartwatch aren't used without their owners' consent, Reuters reports, citing a pair of anonymous sources. Apple and the FTC have reportedly met on several occasions over the past months, with the commission showing a particular interest in Apple Watch and its ability to track a wearer's pulse. Apple has reportedly continued to stress to the commission that it will not sell health data or allow third parties to do so. The FTC declined to comment.

The FTC is interested in Apple, not investigating it

Despite its interest, there appears to be no sign that the commission is planning a formal investigation or inquiry into Apple's use of health data, according to Reuters. Rather, it appears to be more interested in learning about how the data is being kept secure. For Apple, the data will all be stored in HealthKit, its back-end service that allows different apps to share health data. Third parties are restricted from using any data that they see for advertising — in fact, they're barred from using it for anything but providing health and fitness services, though it'll be up to Apple to enforce this.

Apple tells Reuters that it's been working with regulators worldwide on how it stores health data. "We’ve been very encouraged by their support," an Apple spokesperson tells Reuters. "We designed HealthKit with privacy in mind." The commission reportedly has concerns about health data overall, not solely at Apple, simply because this information is not kept private in the way that other health information is through HIPAA.

It's pretty clear that Apple anticipated that US regulators would be interested, if not outright concerned, about what it's beginning to do with health data. Even before the Apple Watch's announcement, Apple had been meeting with the FDA to discuss the regulation of medical apps and devices. One would also imagine that, following the celebrity photo thefts over the summer that many believe stem, in large part, from iCloud, Apple would be taking security quite seriously right now. We may learn more in the near future, particularly as Apple unveils more about its watch. Reuters reports that Apple is even considering appointing a health privacy czar, for whatever that's worth.