Will your period tracker give data to police? Study looks at app privacy policies

·2 min read
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Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the security and privacy of reproductive health apps have sparked concerns, researchers wrote in a new study.

The study began out of concern that law enforcement might use data from period and pregnancy tracking apps to prosecute those seeking an abortion in states with restricted abortion access, researchers from the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation said in an Aug. 17 statement.

Researchers analyzed the privacy policies of 10 period tracking apps, 10 pregnancy tracking apps, and five wearable devices that track fertility, the Aug. 17 study says. Of these 25 apps and devices, researchers gave 18 a “Privacy Not Included” warning label, the study reports. Only one app – Euki – made it onto the “Best Of” privacy list.

“The majority of the apps studied did not provide clear guidelines on what data could be shared with law enforcement,” researchers wrote.

A lead researcher told The Guardian that, “those gray areas are going to be increasingly exploited.”

According to the study, other common data privacy issues involved allowing weak passwords and collecting large amounts of data, which would circulate among third parties.

The exact level of security or risk varied by app. Findings for each app were published as articles on Mozilla’s website. The foundation said they hope people felt “empowered” by the study, “empowered about which apps to use, which to avoid, and how to judge the technologies that we use every day.”

These reproductive health apps were included in the study:

  • Period tracking apps: Natural Cycles - Birth Control; Euki; Clue Period & Cycle Tracker; Period Tracker; Flo Ovulation & Period Tracker; My Calendar Period Tracker; Maya Period, Fertility, Ovulation, & Pregnancy; Ovia Fertility; Period Calendar Period Tracker; and Glow & Eve by Glow.

  • Pregnancy tracking apps: Babycenter; Pregnancy+; What to Expect Pregnancy Tracker & Baby App; Ovia Pregnancy; The Bump Pregnancy Tracker & Baby App; WebMD Pregnancy; Preglife Pregnancy App; Pregnancy & Due Date Tracker; Glow Nurture & Glow Baby; and Sprout Pregnancy.

  • Wearable devices: Garmin, Apple Watch, Whoop Strap 4, Fitbit, and Oura Ring.

The study scored the privacy of each app based on four criteria:

  1. Do they collect and sell more data than seems necessary?

  2. Can users control their data by deleting it in a clear, manageable way?

  3. Does the company have a known track record of protecting user data?

  4. Does the app meet minimum security requirements such as requiring a strong password, encryption, and the existence of a privacy policy?

Additionally, researchers provided tips for using the app safely and answered the question, “What could happen if something goes wrong” with this app? Individual app analyses also include user reviews on how “creepy” they find the app’s data usage, the foundation explains.

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