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Natalie Preddie, who is trying to conceive, uses a Period Tracker app to help understand her cycles. A variety of health information can be entered so the app can better track and determine her fertility cycles. (Photo: Bernard Weil/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Hidden Dangers of Health-Tracking Apps Post Roe

Educating oneself on the apps that are offered, what happens to the data collected through them, and how that data could be possibly used against them is integral to building a wall of digital protection.

Jennifer Thompson

Throughout the past several years, digital apps that track all manner of bio-information, such as food intake, heart rate, daily step count, and more haved rapidly gained popularity. In addition, many people who can give birth have found period-tracking apps helpful in determining when they will get their periods, when they are most fertile, as well as keeping track of the severity of their menstruation symptoms. However, with the recent fall of Roe v. Wade and heightened scrutiny on those who can bear children, the dangers of tracking one's period via a digital app has many users worried — and not without good reason.

I urge those who can get pregnant and want to continue using period-tracking apps to seek out alternative ones equipped with enhanced privacy and safety features like end-to-end encryption.

Popular period-tracking apps collect data from their users to help accurately predict cycles, fertility, and other health markers. While people may not have paid much mind to the amount (or type) of data collected by these apps before Roe was struck down, there has now come a realization that much of that data could potentially be weaponized against those who can get pregnant.

In today's socio-political landscape, it is, unfortunately, not easy to surprise someone with the lengths one may go to prove a point or prosecute someone in order to gain a "win" for "their side." While we have yet to see a real-world example of period-tracking app data being used against someone in a legal sense, it is not outside the realm of thinking. With the fall of Roe, legislation is being considered and passed in some incredibly restrictive states. Considerations of hefty fines — or even jail time — for those seeking abortions have been tossed about, giving those who can give birth genuine cause for concern over their bodily autonomy and right to privacy. As such, it would not surprise some to see a lawyer call someone's period-tracking app data into question, especially since the first question often asked by these apps once one signs up is: "Are you pregnant?"

In 2021, the popular period-tracking app Flo, which has over 43 million users, came under fire for selling customer data, a source for much of the outcry from many to "delete your apps" following the fall of Roe. It turns out that Flo was notifying Facebook each time its users were menstruating or were pregnant. Almost immediately after the fall of Roe, Flo came out with a statement announcing its "Anonymous Mode" feature. Although, given the sensitivity of the information collected by Flo, one could argue an "Anonymous Mode" should have always been an option.

Another issue with tracking apps is the availability of location services. With some states threatening to crack down on those seeking abortion services in other states with more relaxed abortion laws, a user having location services enabled on their period tracking apps would allow those with access to the data to pinpoint their location.

While this all may seem like "sky is falling" rhetoric, I believe Americans have quickly learned over the past few years that terrible circumstances once believed unbelievable can indeed happen — and often will. Thus, it only makes sense that we take control over what we still legally can in order to best protect ourselves; if one wants to abandon the digital tracking option altogether, an old-fashioned calendar still serves perfectly fine.

I urge those who can get pregnant and want to continue using period-tracking apps to seek out alternative ones equipped with enhanced privacy and safety features like end-to-end encryption. This will ensure that their data cannot be accessed or identified. Although Terms of Use are something we all tend to ignore, people should always take time to review an app’s fine print, as this is where apps will typically detail how a user’s data is used. For example, suppose one is utilizing an app from their medical provider, such as MyChart. In this case, they should obtain some form of guarantee that the platform is HIPAA compliant and takes protecting medical information seriously.

As with any situation that affects so many, knowledge is power. Educating oneself on the apps that are offered, what happens to the data collected through them, and how that data could be possibly used against them is integral to building a wall of digital protection.

These are uncertain times. No one can grasp what the full implications of the fall of Roe will be. However, if we all do our due diligence to stay informed and as safe as possible, we can meet this challenging moment head-on, and remain ready to fight for our rights to privacy and autonomy.


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Jennifer Thompson

Jennifer Thompson is the Executive Director of the New Jersey Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

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