Should we delete our period tracking apps? Experts explain
Image source: Getty / Kilito Chan
Since the leak of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion on Roe v. Wade, the media world has exploded – and rightly so. Celebrities have spoken out about their abortions, TikTok activists rally behind the pro-choice movement, and hashtags like #RoevWade are constantly trending on Twitter.
But due to the extensive media coverage, there have since been myriad questions about what the future of Roe v. Wade – and not only for access to abortion but also for other issues.
In a viral tweets posted by Elizabeth C. McLaughlinauthor, lawyer and activist, she wrote: “If you are using an online period tracker or tracking your cycle via your phone, exit it and delete your data.
In the long thread, she went on to accuse Peter Thiel – an entrepreneur and venture capitalist who invested in Palantir, a spy technology system – to allegedly sell “data to locate marginalized people to the government”.
“If you think your data showing when you had your last period is of no interest to those who are about to ban abortion, phew, I have a red flag for YOU,” he said. she continued. “Combine that with location information and the date of your last period and where you seek health care and you have a target on your back.”
She also pointed out that “a prosecutor can subpoena your menstrual data to any company and that company can be forced by a court to comply.” Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? That being said, it’s important to be wary of what you see on social media, as most tweets are unverified.
But because there have already been a lot of questions about what will happen in a post-Roe v. Wade (Will IVF become illegal? Will same-sex marriage be annulled? Should you stock up on emergency contraception?), we decided to check out whether you should be wary of having an app period tracker on your phone. Here’s what the experts have to say.
Related: What is a reversal of Roe v. Wade could mean for birth control
Should people delete their period tracking apps?
Potentially. It depends on several factors, including whether you live in a state where abortion may become illegal, whether you use a period tracker app to regularly monitor your cycle, and whether you’ve had an abortion. If all rings true, “It’s possible that data from your rule-tracking apps could be subpoenaed and therefore used against you in court,” Marco Bellin, data security expert and founder and CEO of Datacappy VPN, a company dedicated to helping individuals maintain their privacy and help them use the Internet safely, says.
Here’s how it works: Because you use data from the period tracker app to see when you’re ovulating, track your cycle, and monitor period-related symptoms, it’s possible that the data you enter could be used to predict when you are likely to get pregnant. And in case you have an abortion, “it could possibly be used to prove that someone got pregnant and ultimately didn’t have a child — or to prove when specifically someone got pregnant,” says Bellin.
Of course, this will heavily depend on what each individual’s state jurisdiction looks like with respect to privacy rules, but LegalAdvice.com attorney and CEO David Reischer, Esq., confirms that legally, there is no law in place that would restrict private companies (e.g. rule-tracking apps) from returning the data. “Theoretically, private companies could hand over the data to big government to be used for prosecution in an illegal abortion lawsuit.”
Legally, there are no laws in place that would prevent private companies from handing over data to the government.
That could be because rule-tracking apps have no HIPAA protection, Bellin says. (Recall that HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, and it’s a federal law that “protects sensitive patient health information from disclosure without the consent or knowledge of the patient,” according to the CDC.)
Since policy-tracking apps don’t have HIPAA protection, that means app developers don’t have to protect your personal information. And since “any free application collects information from you in order to make a profit, according to the laws created, most of your digital information can be subpoenaed by a court and thus used against you if the actions you take are in violation. somehow considered illegal,” confirms Bellin.
For this reason, Bellin says you should probably avoid using period tracking apps — and any tracking apps in general — because “they collect highly personal information and aren’t required to keep it confidential.” Does deleting these apps seem like a lot and maybe even a little overkill? Perhaps. But the thing is, we won’t know what kind of time period tracking apps will have in legal cases until Roe v. Wade be officially canceled.
As for what do period-tracking apps do in the midst of all this? To be determined. When POPSUGAR reached out to Flo — an ovulation calendar, period tracker, and pregnancy app — to see what it was doing to make users feel safer using their platform, it didn’t. been able to comment on the details. Instead, he shared that he “strongly believes[s] women’s health data should be kept with the utmost confidentiality and care. He also mentioned that in March of this year, “Flo conducted an external, independent privacy audit, which confirmed that there were no gaps or weaknesses in our privacy practices. We will remain committed to ensuring the privacy of our users.” (If you would like to learn more about Flo’s privacy practices regarding its data protection policies, you can do so here.)
We can only hope that Flo and other period-tracking apps use this time to take safer action.
In the meantime, if this really scares you because you live and breathe your period tracker app, you have other options. Bellin recommends using a handwritten tracker of your menstrual cycle or updating it in an Excel spreadsheet. He cautions, however, to avoid using the term “menstruation” or “period” on any tracker created online. Instead, “use an emoji or fake term that you create, so if someone accesses your calendar or spreadsheet, they won’t be able to crack your code and track your period.”
All in all, know that conversations like this aren’t meant to scare you — while we admit it, they can be scary. But in a time when people are at risk of losing the right to bodily autonomy, it’s important to do everything in your power to protect yourself — especially when it’s clear the government doesn’t want to protect you. So if you feel better about deleting your period tracker app, you should feel good about making that decision. If you don’t want to, you need to feel empowered to make that decision as well. Because after all it is important that you have a choice do what you want – in all facets of your life.
Related: 9 Ways to Channel Your Anger About Reproductive Rights in Action