HIPAA vs COPPA vs GDPR – Data Compliances For Mobile Apps | Part 1

6 min read

Easy access to nearly unlimited amounts of information is a large part of what made the internet so revolutionary. But that same benefit has proven to be a drawback in a few areas, specifically personal privacy.

The ethos of the internet has always been that content wants to be free, but we all know someone still has to pay for it. This dynamic led to explosive growth in online advertising, but along the way, many website owners realized using and selling personal data was just as much, if not more, lucrative.

We all like the idea of finding whatever we want online, but unknowingly having our personal data collected and shared by multiple parties has understandably left a lot of people feeling uncomfortable.

So as web and mobile platforms matured, so have the regulations that govern how data can be collected.

Because of these regulations, a ticket to participate in the information age doesn’t mean everyone must suffer a complete loss of privacy. However, the ever-increasing number of rules has made the process of developing compliant applications more difficult. This is most apparent with anything connected to medical data, as you’ll see below, as well as content directed at children.

Personal Data Is Rarely Anonymous Online

How data is tracked and stored is at the heart of most online regulation. Governments have grown concerned about how so many organizations have accumulated hundreds of data points on millions of individuals. This practice has proven to be a gold mine for marketing purposes, but data breaches from large corporations have left millions of people vulnerable to identity thieves.

Many of the large companies that collect and purchase data are able to align datasets of anonymous personal information to reveal the identities of individuals. For example, there are services that can tell a website owner who roughly 1/3 of their website visitors are, with additional details available about their purchasing habits and demographic information. Knowing this, website operators can begin retargeting campaigns using a variety of channels to reach these prospects who would normally have remained anonymous.

In an attempt to preserve some privacy for citizens, governments around the world have begun enacting laws to level the playing field. To ensure medical records remain private, the US enacted HIPAA laws. And to protect the privacy of children, it also created COPPA. In the UK, GDPR was established to give citizens more control of their online data. Details about each of these regulations are included below.

HIPPA Compliance Explained

What is HIPPA?

HIPPA Compliance

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) governs personal data related to medical records. For mobile app developers, this means they must build safeguards into their software to ensure data is stored and retrieved in a secure way. The key point to remember with this law is that almost any app that connects medical professionals to their patients is going to fall under HIPAA rules.

Under HIPAA, the owner of an app is held liable for noncompliance, even if it occurs through a hosting provider. So the best policy to use in medical mobile app development is to encrypt everything, and only collect and store the information that is absolutely needed and nothing else.

Patient Monitoring App

HIPAA rules change frequently and there isn’t an up-to-date source for developers to reference when building apps. Therefore, if you have an idea for an app that falls under HIPAA regulations, you should only hire a developer with extensive experience in this area. You don’t want to pay for someone to learn the process while making expensive mistakes along the way.

COPPA Compliance Explained

What is COPPA?

COPPA Compliance

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) prevents organizations from collecting personal information about children without their parent’s consent. It applies to children below the age of 13 and any content that is produced specifically for them.

Identifiable information includes names, ages, locations, birthdates and even hobbies. Apps aimed at children must be careful about the way user accounts are set up, such as allowing for personalization, which could result in identification being possible. However, once parental consent is verified, these types of apps can function like any other.

The best way to verify adult consent is by collecting credit card or another form of payment information. Other options include video chats and signed documents.

GDPR Compliance Explained

What is GDPR?

GDPR Compliance

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the primary reason every website you visit has a pop-up box that requires you to acknowledge it uses cookies to collect visitor information. The law has many more details, but that part is the most visible.

Even though GDPR was enacted in the UK, it applies to any business that interacts with its citizens. The fines are quite large, so organizations around the world have been quick to comply.

Central to the law is that individuals have the right to have their personal information “forgotten.” So when they contact a business that has collected their personal information and request that it be deleted, that organization is expected to do so.

The law also requires that this be done in a timely manner, which means developers must create databases that are easy to search, review and delete entries in order to be compliant.

mobilears - hippa app development

How To Make Your Mobile App HIPAA, COPPA and GDPR Compliant?

Every app is unique, so there isn’t one formula that can be followed to ensure compliance with all of these laws. However, there are some best practices that help reduce mistakes and headaches throughout the process:

  1. Collect verifiable records of consent. It’s not enough to build an app that follows the guidelines. If data is being collected, a record needs to be included with it that shows each person has agreed to it.
  2. Encrypt data. Since all of these laws relate to data privacy, the best way to keep information private is to use end-to-end encryption.
  3. Only collect relevant data. Are last names necessary? What about birthdates? Does the app require location data to function properly? More often than not, the answer to all of these is no.
  4. Be careful with third-party add-ons. All of these laws make the app owner responsible for damages, so it’s not possible to point a finger at anyone else. This can sometimes add time and expense to projects, but it reduces liabilities.
  5. Include a detailed privacy policy. This should explain the steps an individual can take to learn what information is collected, how it is used and how they can opt-out.

Blue Whale Apps’s Capabilities

Blue Whale Apps has extensive experience building HIPAA, COPPA and GDPR compliant apps. Some examples include Mobilears, which is a HIPAA-complaint app for hearing tests and SpiriLite, a health and wellness app that gives medical providers and their patients a simple way to communicate and coordinate payments. We also built an app for the National Association for Child Development (NACD) to help children work with speech therapy practitioners.

Contact Blue Whale Apps for HIPPA Compliance Mobile App Development

Our team specializes in end-to-end development for Fortune 1000 businesses and government agencies. Recent projects have included apps within the healthcare, technology, public utilities, entertainment, retail, consumer products and automotive industries. And last year, Blue Whale Apps was named the #1 Mobile App Developers by AppFutura, Clutch, and Good Firms in 2019.

We can manage all parts of your app development process, from conducting audience and market research to UX design to custom coding solutions. Contact us today to get on the path to creating a fully-compliant app for your organization.

Have more questions?

If you have any questions or would like an app healthcare consulting and a quote, drop us a line and we’ll get back to you.

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