Update: QxMD fixes privacy problem in Calculate

On  October 30, PHIprivacy.net linked to an article on PCMag that described a review of an app, Calculate, by QxMD. The reviewer, Appthority, had found that “the registration and setup sends the doctor information, such as name, e-mail, and location over the network in plaintext,” despite the app’s assurance that all information was encrypted. At the time, I commented:

There are no identifiable patient data involved, but even so, if your policy says ALL info is sent encrypted, the doctors’ information shouldn’t be in plaintext, right? This could actually be the basis for a complaint to the FTC if the privacy policy is inaccurate in a material way. I’m not suggesting a complaint should be filed, but just that the app may need to either re-write the privacy policy (if the reviewer was accurate about plaintext) or re-code so that all data really are transmitted encryption. I think we all know which option is preferable.

Today, I received an e-mail from Daniel Schwartz, MD, FRCPC, the Medical Director of QxMD. It says, in part:

You correctly noted that Appthority identified several legacy tracking tools we had been using and, unfortunately, not yet disabled.


We take privacy very seriously and sincerely regret that any user data was transmitted in an unencrypted fashion. It should be made clear that no patient specific identifiers were ever collected or transmitted. In fact, Calculate is meant to be an educational tool to support clinical decisions at the point of care and is purposely not integrated with patient databases. As such, no patient data was ever at risk.

In response to the security bulletin posted by Appthority, we immediately took action. As of November 4, 2013, Google Play has an updated version of Calculate that ensures user data cannot be intercepted.

I’m glad to hear that QxMD took prompt action to correct the problem Appthority had pointed out. And this is a great example of: (1) why apps need to encourage independent entities to review their code for security and privacy, and (2) why we should all be grateful to researchers who do investigate and share their findings with consumers and health care professionals.

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