Tags: fitbit | privacy | concerns | lobbyist

Fitbit Enlists Aid of DC Lobbyist Amid Privacy Concerns

By    |   Monday, 15 September 2014 03:14 PM

The health-tracking device company Fitbit has hired a Washington-based lobbyist to work on consumer privacy and healthcare issues, according to public disclosure records. 

Amid criticism of its privacy policies, Fitbit hired lobbying firm Heather Podesta + Partners. Heather Podesta, who has worked for several members on tax-writing committees, will represent the company with assistance from two other Capitol Hill veterans: Eric Rosen and Benjamin Klein.

The effective date of the hire is Aug. 10, which is the same day that New York Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer publicly voiced his concerns that exercise bracelets, such as Fitbit, and other health apps could place detailed personal information at risk. 

"If companies of fitness devices have the ability to sell personal health data to insurers, employers and others, users should be alerted and given the opportunity to decline. The FTC [Federal Trade Commission] should require fitness devices and app companies to adopt new privacy measures that will help conceal the identity of individuals and develop policies to protect consumer information in the event of a security breach," Schumer said.

According to the senator, there are no restrictions on companies selling health and personal data to third parties, like employers, insurance providers and other companies, without the users' consent.

Almost two weeks later, Schumer offered praise of Fitbit for "revising" its privacy policies, but Fitbit chief executive and co-founder James Park insisted no change had been made, reports The Boston Globe. 

"It has always been our policy not to sell user data," Park said. "We have never sold personal data and we do not share personal data unless a user specifically directs us to do so, or under the limited exceptions described in our privacy policy."

Fitbit made users' profiles and activity public by default, but ended that policy in July 2011 after a Fitbit staffer noticed that users' sexual activity was being posted online, reported Forbes magazine.

As of Jan. 3, the privacy policy said that "at times" the company would make certain personal information available to "strategic partners" and might also "share your personal information with companies who provide services such as information processing, order fulfillment, product delivery, customer data management, customer research and the like." 

It posted an update on August 10, which stated that "First and foremost: We don’t sell any data that could identify you," adding that any changes would be announced in an email from the company. 

Heather Podesta + Partners also was enlisted by Snapchat after it reported security breaches, according to National Journal. 

In September 2013, the Food and Drug Administration released guidelines on mobile medical applications to address privacy concerns, but the guidelines apply only to apps that are promoted for medical purposes.

Schumer has been urging the FTC to persuade fitness device companies to provide an "opt-out" so consumers can act before personal health data could be shared. 

In a letter to the FTC, Schumer urged the federal government to investigate the "vague policies used by these companies that make it impossible for health-conscious consumers to make an informed choice about privacy, and to clarify that it is an unfair or deceptive trade practice when a company fails to state clearly to consumers whether personal data may be sold to third parties for advertising or other purposes," said a Schumer press release.

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The health-tracking device company Fitbit has hired a Washington-based lobbyist to work on consumer privacy and health care issues, according to public disclosure records.
fitbit, privacy, concerns, lobbyist
Monday, 15 September 2014 03:14 PM
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