The BBC recently highlighted the story of a woman in Kenya who had HIV misdiagnosed on a “prank” smartphone app. The report not only brought to light the danger of using unregulated health apps but gave insight into mobile tech usage in poorer parts of the world.
The woman with the misdiagnosis in Kenya might have easily found out that the app was a hoax by doing cursory research on the internet, but as the report suggests, the app was probably shared by Bluetooth, a common way of saving mobile data in Kenya and the user wouldn’t be able to read reviews for example.
It’s not just the lack of reviews that may cause some confusion in that country, notably for women, it’s Kenya’s systematic and cultural aspects, too. These include patriarchal control of phone usage, cost, and education on use. There’s also a major lack of digital literacy “to answer questions such as how to manage data usage, how to reset password, and how to spot fake news and other net-based scams.”
That all said — we have had the same issue with medical apps in the United States. A great example was the Instant Blood Pressure app that we profiled on iMedicalApps. It claimed to measure your blood pressure by utilizing your iPhone’s microphone and camera. That might sound silly, but in reality, it became one of the top downloaded apps in the health section of the App Store until Google and Apple shut it down. Below is a graphic that still exists from their website:
Hopefully, these types of snake oil apps will start to go away as Apple and Google continue to improve their App store guidelines. Last year Apple updated their medical app store guidelines to help prevent apps like this from ever making it onto their platform.