It’s only natural to want to keep tabs on our periods and reproductive health in general. After all, it’s your body and you should be in control of what’s going on inside it.
Period tracker apps have become increasingly popular tools for tracking our cycles, spotting irregularities and understanding the relationship between our bodies and our health. However, these apps can also pose a privacy risk for users, which raises questions about their safety.
Leading period tracker and female health apps worldwide in April 2022, by downloads
Find more statistics at Statista
Since the landmark overturning by the Supreme Court of Roe V. Wade taking back Americans’ constitutional right to access legal abortion, women in the U.S.A. where one in three use a tracking app, have been deleting them worried about privacy issues.
Tech companies are now racing to adjust their data privacy practices in response to recent subsequent criminalising of abortion in several states, as the larger public realises that the data those services collect could be used to prosecute abortion seekers. Google, for example, recently announced that it will automatically delete location data if people visit medical facilities, including abortion clinics (it still, of course, collects that data). And the period tracker app Flo is introducing an “anonymous mode” that is supposed to let users delete any identifiable information from their profiles.
This week in the United Kingdom, a 44 year old Mother of three was sentenced to 28 months for carrying out a late abortion, the proof of her knowing how many months pregnant she was, being provided from her internet search history.
So privacy has become huge concern when it comes to using any type of menstrual technology. We often input a lot of personal health data and information that we wouldn’t want falling into the wrong hands. When it comes to period tracker apps, the same applies – a lot of the data is sensitive and personal, so it’s important to ensure the app is secure and the data is protected.
Many period tracking apps have been found to be sharing user data with third-parties, including data that could be used to identify the user. This begs the question: are period tracker apps really safe to use?
What Are Period Tracker Apps?
Period tracker apps are smartphone applications specifically designed to track a woman’s menstrual cycle. They are typically used to monitor fertility, record symptoms, and keep track of periods. The apps can also provide information and advice about contraception, sexual health, and reproduction. Depending on the app, they can also provide information about ovulation, hormonal cycles, and other aspects of reproductive health. The apps are designed to be used on a regular basis, as users can log in to keep track of their menstrual cycles, record the intensity of their period, and other symptoms like cramps, bloating, and headaches. This data is used to generate a calendar of the user’s menstrual cycle. Some apps also allow users to set reminders for the start of their period and ovulation period, as well as any other important dates related to their menstrual cycle.
Benefits of Using a Period Tracker App
Period tracker apps have become increasingly popular in recent years due to their convenience and ability to provide users with important insights into their menstrual cycles. For many women, tracking their periods can help them better understand their bodies and how their health is affected by their menstrual cycles. This can be especially helpful for women who suffer from painful periods, irregular cycles, and other conditions related to their reproductive health. Period tracker apps can also provide women with helpful tips on how to manage their periods and minimize discomfort. The apps can remind users to take their contraception correctly, provide advice on when to take a pregnancy test, and even provide helpful reminders about refilling contraception prescriptions. It’s also a great way to keep track of your menstrual cycle and avoid any surprises.
Potential Risks of Using a Period Tracker App
While period tracker apps are a great way to keep track of your menstrual cycle and have access to helpful advice and information, there are potential risks associated with using these apps. The main risk is that the data collected by the app could be shared with third-parties without the user’s knowledge or consent. This can pose a major privacy risk, as the data could be used to identify the user. If they sell to third-parties are selling to data brokers and some of the biggest clients of data brokers are government agencies, including local and Government law enforcement.
Another risk is that the data collected by the app could be used to track the user’s location or take advantage of other personal information. This could be a major privacy risk for users.
How to Find a Secure and Reliable Period Tracker App
Obviously, not every period tracker app has the same features. You’ll want to be careful about period tracker apps that use cloud servers or share information with third parties.
It’s also a good idea to look for apps that are transparent about how they use the data they collect. Many apps will specify how they use the data to improve the app or provide users with better insights into their menstrual cycles. It’s also a good idea to look for apps that allow users to opt-out of data sharing or other forms of tracking.
Tips for Staying Safe and Secure When Using Period Tracker Apps
Should I Delete My Menstruation App?
This seems to be the biggest question people have about online privacy. The short answer is: Yes. If you want to keep your reproductive health and menstrual data private — especially if you’re worried about that data being part of a criminal investigation — don’t put it in an app.
The longer answer is that when it comes to online privacy and health privacy, deleting a period tracker app is like taking a teaspoon of water out of the ocean. The current anxiety about period apps is understandable, given the purpose that they serve. There are countless and more effective ways that interested parties can track your pregnancy status (expectant parents buy a lot of things, so knowing when someone gets pregnant to target them with ads can be lucrative) and law enforcement can do even more if they’re investigating you for getting an abortion in a state where it’s illegal. The data from a period tracker app will only tell them so much, and it will only tell them the information you’ve given it.
How to delete your data from some of the most downloaded period tracker apps:
For Flo: Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request to delete your data.
For Clue: Go to Support in your app, tap “account & data,” and follow the steps listed in “How can I delete my account?”
For Stardust:Email email@example.com or call at (833) 242-2002 to request that your personal information be deleted.
For Fertility Friend: Click the menu icon and select “charts management/permanently delete a chart.”
For BabyCenter: The app’s website recommends “logging into your account or contacting us through our DSAR Portal. We will respond to your request within a reasonable timeframe.“
For Ovia: Go to your profile settings and select “delete account.”
Before you start going through the steps of wiping information, understand that deleting data does not guarantee that what you shared will not be used against you. Deleting the data from a period tracker may have some effectiveness, but it depends on how widely the app has already given out your information to third parties before you request deletion.
Are there other ways to track my period that might be more secure than a period app?
Yes. People have been menstruating for as long as people have existed. Period apps, smartphones, and even the internet have only been around for a fraction of that time. If you keep track of your cycle on, say, a paper calendar, that data isn’t going to be sent to third parties or stored in some company’s cloud for law enforcement to access. Digital calendars exist, too, like Google’s Calendar and Apple’s iCal. You might feel better about those because they aren’t expressly for period tracking, and Google and Apple don’t send your data to third parties like some of those period apps do. But that doesn’t mean that data is completely protected.
Let’s look at Google, because it likely has more data on you than anyone else. Depending on which of its services you use (or which of its services the apps you use or websites you visit use) Google knows a lot about you, such as where you go, what you search the internet for, the websites you visit, the emails you send and receive, the text messages you send, and the photos you take. Google doesn’t necessarily want to share this data with anyone else, because being the sole owner of it is one of Google’s competitive advantages.
Every other company is going to have a version of that clause. Even Apple, which has a better reputation for privacy than its Big Tech peers, will give data to the police if it’s compelled to do so.
Period tracker apps can be a great way to keep track of your menstrual cycle and access helpful advice about your reproductive health. However, it’s important to make sure the app is secure and reliable before using it, as the data collected by the app can be vulnerable to malicious actors. It’s also important to be aware of the potential risks of using a period tracker app, and take steps to protect your data. By following these simple steps, users can stay safe and secure when using Period Tracker Apps.