Many women are deleting period tracking apps after the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs Wade on June 24th 2022. This ruling saw 22 American states ban women’s rights to abortion after nearly fifty years. In light of this decision, women are being urged to delete period tracking apps as many sell third-party data, making women even more vulnerable to the criminalisation of abortion.
The ‘femtech’ industry is increasingly popular and estimated to be worth over £40 billion by 2025. Period tracking apps such as Flo, which has more than 100 million users, allows them to share intimate information such as the heaviness of a cycle, PMS symptoms and whether they have engaged in unprotected sex. This allows women to accurately track their periods, ovulation and even menopause in a convenient way.
The selling of women’s intimate data acts as a surveillance tool
Period tracking apps allow users to record the dates of their cycles, including those that are late or have been missed, letting women know if they could be pregnant. However, this useful feature in the aftermath of Roe V Wade is making women even more vulnerable. Many period apps share third-party data; whilst it is unclear exactly what these period tracking apps do with this data, the selling of women’s intimate data acts as a surveillance tool as the data knows if a woman is pregnant. Therefore, further restricting women’s freedom and reproductive rights.
Cooper Quintin of the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) has urged period tracking app developers to ‘[think] about the amount of data they are storing’ and how said data could be ‘misused in the future to cause harm or be a tool of surveillance’.
The concept of deleting period tracking apps has also been extremely popular on all social media platforms. Social media such as Twitter and Tik Tok have been telling women to not only delete period tracking apps but also delete the data they already hold in order to preserve privacy and keep as many reproductive freedoms as possible. Women are instead being urged to use other methods to track their cycles such as by using a calendar or even creating a spreadsheet.
However, not all period tracking apps collect and sell your data. The period tracking app, Clue, that boasts over 12 million active users still allows users to safely track periods. Clue, unlike Flo, is protected by European Union regulations that ensure data is protected. This data under GDPR rules is unable to be subpoenaed from the US, ensuring the safety of its users and their reproductive freedoms.
Greer explains that even from a woman using her phone in an abortion clinic waiting room, certain apps may be collecting location data;
However, it is not just period tracking apps that are increasing women’s vulnerability as Evan Greer (the director of the Digital Rights advocacy group Fight For The Future) highlights, other methods can also be used. Greer says that data from internet searches and usage also can be used as a form of surveillance. Greer explains that even from a woman using her phone in an abortion clinic waiting room, certain apps may be collecting location data; which allows for the government to have further tracking data and potentially limit women’s reproductive rights. This idea is extended further by Kevin Collier on Twitter as he highlights that women need to be extra cautious when using their phones in order to protect their reproductive rights.
The increase in women deleting period tracking apps and being cautious over data is understandable but extremely sad that women are now having to do such a thing; in order to maintain some form of reproductive rights in an ever more dystopian future.
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