Which period tracking apps are secure to use? Data privacy questioned post Roe v. Wade

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Millions of people use apps to track their period cycles, but data privacy has come into question following a U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion leak in May and the subsequent overturn of Roe v. Wade over a month later.

Privacy experts have expressed concern that data collected by tracking apps could be used to suggest someone had or is considering an abortion if the information is subpoenaed or sold to a third-party, according to a report by NPR.

This isn’t the first time period tracking app privacy has come into question.

In 2019, the Wall Street Journal revealed the tracking app Flo allegedly shared its users’ personal health information with third-parties such as Facebook, also known as Meta, while still promising privacy.

As part of a proposed Federal Trade Commission settlement announced in January this year, Flo is prohibited from misrepresenting the purposes they or third-parties use collected data. They also must notify users about the disclosure of their personal information and instruct any third-party that received users’ health information to destroy that data.

Which period tracking apps are secure to use?

Depending on the app, user personal information may be subject to subpoenas. Here are three of the most used period tracking brands in the United States.

Clue

Women’s Health published a list of their top 11 period tracking apps in December and Clue was ranked first.

The app is free and allows its users to track their health throughout their cycle, from emotions to how much sleep they get.

According to Clue’s privacy policy, user information is collected and processed by third-parties engaged with Clue, which include tracking and analytics services to track app performance and assess how users engages with the app.

In May, Clue’s co-CEOs Carrie Walter and Audrey Tsang released a statement which said the company would never turn its users’ private health data over to any authority that could use it against them. Clue is based in Berlin and is governed by the European General Data Protection Regulation, one of the toughest privacy and security laws in the world.

The company said in a statement that under the GDPR, privately tracked data from the app is protected and cannot be subpoenaed from the U.S.

“We would not respond to any disclosure request or attempted subpoena of our users’ health data by U.S. authorities. But we would let you and the world know if they tried,” Clue officials said in the statement.

Flo

Flo was Women’s Health’s second choice for period tracking apps, but has previously been ranked first by publications such as Insider.

The free app tracks users’ period cycles and can turn into a pregnancy tracker if necessary.

In the 2020 complaint against Flo, the company allegedly disclosed sensitive health information, including users’ pregnancies, to third-parties without limiting how the data could be used. This is in violation of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, which requires notice, choice and protection of personal data transferred to third-parties.

The FTC settlement with Flo did not include restrictions on what data can be subpoenaed or which third-parties the app can use. According to the app’s privacy policy, Flo works with software company AppsFlyer to give some personal data such as technical information and age group to third-parties like Facebook, Pinterest and Snapchat.

Flo’s privacy policy states they may share personal data “in response to subpoenas, court orders or legal processes, to the extent permitted and as restricted by law.”

Glow and Eve by Glow

Both Glow and Eve by Glow are period tracking apps, however Glow doubles as a fertility tracker while Eve by Glow is designed to also keep tabs on the users’ health and sex life.

According to Glow’s privacy policy, the company may use its users’ personal information to “comply with applicable laws, lawful requests, and legal process, such as to respond to subpoenas or requests from government authorities.”

What are other period tracking options?

A new encryption method for one period tracker is set to launch this week for users who prefer a digital method.

Stardust Period Tracker received over 1.5 million views on TikTok over the weekend on a video which claims the app’s new encryption method prevents personal data from being accessible in a subpoena.

According to the app’s privacy policy, personal data may be shared to third-parties “in response to subpoenas, court orders or legal processes, to the extent enforceable, permitted and as restricted by law.” However, according to one of Stardust’s creators, the app has an encrypted wall giving users a unique, private key which connects them with their personal data and prevents the company from giving user data in the case of a subpoena.

Other ways to securely track a period cycle is by marking days on a paper or mobile calendar or writing down dates in a notebook. Outside of dates, flow, mood swings and physical symptoms are other things to take note of when using any tracking device, according to a report by Insider.