When news leaked of the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade in the US, more people became worried about the privacy of their health data stored in apps, particularly menstruation logs. Are period trackers safe to use?
Period-tracking apps are safe to use when users choose a privacy-respecting mobile app. Companies offering free or paid menstruation loggers should disclose how they transmit, store, and secure sensitive healthcare data. There are offline apps and analog methods for recording cycles.
Let’s look at the risks you could face and how you can protect yourself.
What Is Roe v. Wade?
Roe v. Wade was a landmark legal decision in 1973 that established women’s rights to act in the best interest of their reproductive health. This landmark case allows, among other procedures, women to have an abortion. The recent discussion of reversal has triggered heated debates concerning women’s rights and body autonomy.
In addition, cybersecurity experts immediately expressed concerns regarding the extensive data collected by period tracking apps. Many worry that law enforcement could use the data to penalize women seeking an abortion.
What Data Do Period Trackers Collect?
Most menstruation apps collect information like weight, age, time, length of menstrual cycles, and symptoms, such as cramps and mood swings. The data is helpful for users to predict their periods. It also allows them to understand and analyze their hormonal changes and monthly patterns.
Many also rely on period trackers to calculate their fertility windows to attempt or avoid getting pregnant. This would require users to log more private information, such as their sexual activities.
Law enforcement could be empowered to obtain this information to build a case. According to Electronic Frontier Foundation, user data can be employed to prosecute abortion seekers, providers, and helpers.
Even without the court decision, third parties like law enforcement, hackers, and advertisers could easily access user data.
A recent Vice report reveals how sensitive data of period tracker users is sold on data marketplaces like Narrative. Although Narrative claims that the data sold is used for advertising or competitive intelligence use cases, cybersecurity researchers worry that law enforcement agencies could obtain the data for prosecution.
Should I Delete My Period Tracker App?
If you are worried about your data privacy, consider deleting your period tracker app. . Despite the convenience offered by menstrual logging apps, consider the risk of third parties gaining access to this essential healthcare data.
Let’s look at a few ways you can keep your information private.
The safest way to keep your data private is by tracking them offline, using pen and paper. Use a notebook or physical calendar to record the length of your period and menstrual symptoms such as headaches or cramps. If you are calculating your fertility window, record your temperature as well.
If you would still like to enjoy the convenience of using technology for tracking, consider recording them on spreadsheets or calendars. However, make sure they are not synced online to ensure privacy. If you are using a spreadsheet, you can also add a password for an extra layer of security. You may want to save this data on a USB drive so it’s not stored on any internet-connected device.
For those that still want to use a smartphone app, here are a couple (we prefer free and open-source software [FOSS]) period-tracking apps that are safe and respect your privacy:
Period tracking apps might be convenient for users to predict their cycles and calculate their fertility windows. However, it does come with privacy concerns, especially when legal precedence protecting healthcare is challenged. Always be aware of the risks you are facing, and keep your information private and safe with you.
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