Mar 13, 2015 · 1 minute

Apple has updated its developer guidelines to mandate that companies take certain steps -- like receiving a consumer's informed consent -- before using information collected via their iOS applications to inform any medical research.

Here are the newly-introduced guidelines:

Apps conducting health-related human subject research must obtain consent from participants or, in the case of minors, their parent or guardian. Such consent must include the (a) nature, purpose, and duration of the research; (b) procedures, risks, and benefits to the participant; (c) information about confidentiality and handling of data (including any sharing with third parties); (d) a point of contact for participant questions; and (e) the withdrawal process
The rule is believed to have been introduced because of the ResearchKit framework announced during the Apple Watch event. The new tool allows all iPhone users to contribute to medical research by sharing information from health or fitness apps.

ResearchKit appears to be an early success. More than 11,000 people signed up for a Stanford cardiovascular study less than 24 hours after ResearchKit debuted. It would normally "take a year and 50 medical centers around the country" to reach even 10,000 people with a study, Stanford's Alan Yeung told Bloomberg Business.

Collecting that much information and making it available to medical researchers -- or anyone else -- clearly requires new guidelines. Apple is getting out ahead of any potential scandals which might arise from organizations abusing ResearchKit.

The guidelines also show the increasing concern with which health-focused tech products are treated. The FTC recently said that companies making medical claims, such as the ability to tell the difference between a harmless mole and skin cancer, must back up those assertions. Snake oil developers will finally be scrutinized.

And as companies start to collect more information about our bodies, it's not hard to imagine how such data could be abused by advertising-supported companies. These guidelines could help ensure ResearchKit doesn't enable that abuse.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]