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Period Tracking Apps May Be Tracking More Than Your Period


Women all over the globe rely on cycle tracking apps to keep tabs on their periods, pregnancies and other health concerns. However, there is a new concern that has arisen in recent times. It has been found that some of these apps may be tracking other activities and sending this data to advertisers. Privacy concerns over how these apps manage private information have become a concern in the post Roe vs. Wade world.

There have been reports of companies like Facebook and Google collecting data from these apps without the user's knowledge. In some cases, this data has been used to target ads toward specific users.

The recent US Supreme Court's verdict, reversing Roe vs. Wade case, has fanned anxiety as to whether personal health information stored on these apps could be used to target those seeking an abortion.

Experts have raised concerns that period tracking apps may also encourage businesses to use the information to raise the prices of services or reduce coverage. According to The Washington Post, despite the de-identification of user data, businesses may still be able to identify which data applies to which employee (under corporate wellness plans) based on information supplied in confidence at workplaces.

There have been reports of companies like Facebook and Google collecting data from these apps without the user's knowledge. In some cases, this data has been used to target ads toward specific users.

How Period Tracking Apps Exploit User Data

In 2019, The Washington Post reported that Ovia, a well-known manufacturer of pregnancy, parenting, and fertility apps, released a version of its app that employers could extend to their employees under a corporate wellness plan. Pregnant employees could use Ovia to track their sleep, nutrition, mood, and weight. Women trying to get pregnant could keep track of information like when they had sex, a miscarriage, or pregnancy loss.

However, there is a certain amount of privacy loss when women download period monitoring applications and begin charting their cycles. For the applications to accurately predict upcoming cycles, determine ovulation windows, and assist in tracking their period signs, the users must provide crucial private information. 

Although most users assume their data will remain private, there is no guarantee. Most period tracking apps gather information that can later be shared with interested parties. Some of these period tracking apps have had over a million downloads, indicating they have become a critical tool for women worldwide. 

Maya, another period tracking app, was charged with alerting Facebook each time a user opened the app. The app also disclosed details about any unprotected intercourse and the contraception used. The app has also been accused of revealing the information it gathered on women’s emotions and moods.

Employers, health insurers and marketers

Health data laws may not govern these apps, leading to privacy concerns. Some apps have become potent monitoring tools for employers and health insurers, who aggressively push for gathering more information about their employees' lives under corporate wellness schemes. 

A Privacy International report suggests that data may be disseminated more widely than many users realize. Millions of people have downloaded period tracking apps incorporating Facebook's Software Developer Kit (SDK). These apps divulge your private data to Facebook, its ad network, and third-party analytics firms.

These applications reveal more information than just the days and times of your menstruation. They may also contain details about your unprotected sex, your moods and vulnerabilities, the types of drugs you use, whether you are trying to conceive, and more. Apps like Maya also suggest articles based on your lifestyle choices, such as drinking or other activities. Whenever a user clicks on the article, Facebook and a third-party analytics company receive the information you enter. Advertisers find value in all this. Gathering data on mood and mental health, often known as "psychographic targeting,” is an efficient advertising method.

End-to-end encryption is key

The solution lies in using period tracking apps offering end-to-end encryption . End-to-end encryption makes sure that data is always kept secure, regardless of where it is shared. Another tip for Americans looking for safer apps is to find those that fall under European ownership as they would fall under European data privacy laws. This could possibly ensure that data in that app would not be allowed to be subpoenaed in the US.

Although most users are not aware of the risks, it is important to do your research on an app before downloading it. Make sure to read the privacy policy and terms of service. Find out where the company is based, as this will give you a better understanding of which laws they are subject to. Pay close attention to the permissions the app is asking for. If an app is asking for too much information, it may be best to find another option.

Final thoughts

If you're someone who tracks their period using an app, it's important to be aware of the potential risks associated with doing so. While these apps can be helpful in managing one's menstrual cycle, they may also be collecting data that could be used without your consent or knowledge.

The health technology sector thrives on user data. However, when it comes to our private data, we should all demand transparency and control. We should know what data is being collected about us and why. We should be able to decide who gets to access that data and for what purpose.