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Evaluating Security Features for Mobile Health Applications in Younger and Older Adults & Locking it down: The Privacy and Security of Mobile Medication Apps

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University of Waterloo, School of Pharmacy



Project Leader(s)

Kelly Grindrod, Assistant Professor


The first study, Evaluating security features for mobile health applications in younger and older adults, indicates that mobile applications (apps) promoting patient self-management may improve health outcomes. However, the methods used to secure stored information on mobile devices may make the apps less usable. The study tested the reliability and usability of common password-like options in younger and older adults.

Usability testing was done with two age groups: 18-30 years and 50+ years. Participants randomly tested four password-like options: a four-digit personal identification number (PIN), a graphical password, a pattern-lock, and a fingerprint scanner.

Overall, the PIN, graphical and pattern options performed better than the fingerprint. Older participants were more likely to rate fingerprints as time consuming and annoying, and less likely to rate the PIN as tiring or time consuming. Younger participants were more likely to rate the graphical option as annoying, time consuming and tiring.

Age-related differences for different password-like options underscore the importance of usability testing in target groups when developing security features for mobile devices and apps.

The second study, Locking it down: The privacy and security of mobile medication apps, explores the privacy and security of free medication applications (apps) available to Canadian consumers.

The authors searched the Canadian iTunes and the Canadian Google Play stores for free English-language apps intended to help the public manage medications. Of the 184 apps evaluated, 70% had no password protection or sign-in system and only 34% had a privacy policy. Personal information was requested by 42% of apps, contact information was requested by 25% of apps, and 89% of apps requested personal health information other than medication name.

Most free medication apps offer limited authentication and privacy protocols. The role of these systems in healthcare will remain limited until more secure systems are built.

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OPC Funded Project

This project received funding support through the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Contributions Program. The opinions expressed in the summary and report(s) are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Summaries have been provided by the project authors. Please note that the projects appear in their language of origin.

Contact Information

University of Waterloo
School of Pharmacy
10A Victoria St. S.
Kitchener, Ontario
N2G 1C6

Main Telephone: 519-888-4499

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