Do period-tracking apps keep data safe? Researchers release new privacy warning

Millions of people use reproductive health apps like Flo and Clue to track fertility, pregnancies and menstrual cycles.

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Thursday, August 18, 2022
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Researchers that examined popular period-tracking apps released a new report, revealing that many may not keep users' data secure.

Researchers that examined popular period-tracking apps released a new report, revealing that many may not keep users' data secure, a growing concern in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned.

Millions of people use reproductive health apps like Flo and Clue to track fertility, pregnancies and menstrual cycles.

Yet staff at the Mozilla Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for privacy on the internet, warned that personal reproductive information recorded on these platforms -- like weight, birth plan, pregnancy journals and doctor appointment -- may not be as private as users think.

"They're collecting a whole lot of data, and they're using very similar privacy policies to the apps you use for recipes or picture-sharing or things like that," said Jen Caltrider, Mozilla's lead in their Privacy Not Included Division.

SEE ALSO: House passes bill to codify right to contraception after Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade

The organization looked at 25 popular reproductive health apps and labeled 18 with a "privacy not included" warning, meaning data users supply may not be secure. Eight of those apps failed to meet the company's "minimum security standards."

After the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, many women living in states that criminalize abortion have shared concerns that these apps could now hold incriminating information about their travel, search history and menstrual cycles.

"What we found was most companies had fairly vague statements, [making it] hard to tell whether companies would voluntarily disclose data to law enforcement if they came asking," Caltrider said.

Any consumer interesting in using a period-tracker should do their research by reading the fine print before signing off on privacy terms and entering potentially sensitive information online, said Leah Fowler, a research assistant professor at the University of Houston Law Center.

"Each individual consumer has to do a cost-benefit analysis of how useful they find the product and the types of risks they may be exposed to depending on where they live," Fowler said. "There are lots of products available that are ultimately very useful, very popular tools without exposing them to as much risk. For example, one might store data locally on your phone or doesn't participate in third-party data sharing."