Do not download oximeter app: Maharashtra cyber police warns that such applications may leave user vulnerable to data theft

A slew of forwarded messages have been doing the rounds on social media platforms like WhatsApp, LLM Twitter, wherein a user is asked to download an 'oximeter' mobile application used to measure their oxygen level.

Maharashtra Cyber has issued an advisory stating that such applications are not to be completely trusted as they may not meet standards or be certified by medical authorities. Moreover, these apps, which ask for access to the camera, media files and fingerprint scanner, can be another cyber criminal ploy to commit data theft, warn experts.

According to police, people are mostly tempted to download these apps which they consider to be quick and zero-cost options, as compared to actual oximeters available at a local pharmacist or online. The price of these devices ranges from Rs 500 and Rs 5,000, so users are sorely tempted to go in for a cheaper product or experiment with smartphone apps.

Dr Deepak Baid, president, Association of Medical Consultants, said, "Oximeter apps available on mobile phones are useless. Firstly, an oximeter cannot work on camera but only on a radio frequency, that too, infrared. If one puts their finger on the camera to get an oxygen saturation reading, it will be the same as putting their bedsheet or the wall before the camera -- utterly useless. Any app which uses a camera and a flash as a measuring apparatus is unreliable."

While not all phones have these oximeter apps, a few high-end phones and smartwatches do measure oxygen saturation using infrared and these can be trusted, added Dr Baid.

There are reports of a number of Covid-19 deaths being caused by low oxygen saturation levels. Tapping into the latent fear in public minds about their own blood oxygen levels, a number of oximeter apps have surfaced on the internet. A senior cyber official said, "These applications mostly do not meet standard requirements, nor do they take into account the varying medical status of people as per their medicinal intake. None of these applications have been recommended or passed by any medical institutes or health organisation, to support the findings of these apps."

Balsing Rajput, superintendent, Maharashtra Cyber, said, "One should always check the credentials and then download the application. With regard to the oximeter app, we have already issued an advisory and warned citizens of the risks that come therewith."

The official added that while there could be safe oximeter apps too, one cannot overlook a rise in the fake apps being developed in a bid to steal data. "Private information like biometric data, access to camera media files and text messages could be largely misused by phishing, banking frauds and extortion, besides data theft, warn police.

There was a message asking users to instal an app for measuring oxygen level, blood pressure and heart rate, which provided a link and advised to consult a doctor if the reading was below 90. However, after the application was found to be fake and untrustworthy, it was taken down from the Google Playstore.

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Free Press Journal