On February 13, researchers at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University released an in-depth empirical report on how data brokers in the U.S. are willing to sell sensitive data linked to telehealth and therapy apps to the highest bidder. Out of the 34 companies contacted by the author of the study, ten were ready to sell exhaustive lists with details on the app customers' "depression, attention disorder, insomnia, anxiety, ADHD, treatments (medication for ADHD/ADD), antidepressants, and bipolar disorder" status. While the relationship between the app providers and data brokers provides a regular, largely incontestable revenue stream for both sides due to policy and legal loopholes on the collection of user data, telehealth apps have become a major revenue potential in their own right.
As our chart based on estimates from our Statista Health Market Insights shows, in-app purchases in medication checker and meditation apps generated revenues of $1.2 billion in the United States in 2022 alone. The latter became increasingly popular during the pandemic, likely due to the added feeling of stress surrounding the novel coronavirus. As Joanne Kim, the researcher behind said study notes, telehealth app downloads increased by 200 percent between 2019 and 2020. By 2027, the combined in-app purchase revenues of mindfulness apps like Headspace or Calm or medication checkers like MyRxProfile or Drug Interaction Checker could amount to almost $2 billion.
Data collection by internet companies has long been commonplace, with the idea of a consumer of a free product not being the customer, but the product dating back to the 1970s. One of the most influential recent cases of large-scale data collection and its misuse becoming public was the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The consulting firm collected various data points of at least 30 million Facebook users via a dedicated app and provided this data to the 2016 campaigns of former president Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz for analytical purposes. Further suggested uses in Russian election interference and the Brexit referendum couldn't be conclusively proven. The misuse of data led to Facebook agreeing to a $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, one of the largest U.S. government fines of all time.