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Should you worry about data from your period-tracking app being used against you?

Hannah Norman and Victoria Knight, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

It’s estimated that millions of people in the U.S. use period-tracking apps to plan ahead, track when they are ovulating, and monitor other health effects. The apps can help signal when a period is late.

After Politico published on May 2 a draft opinion from the Supreme Court indicating that Roe v. Wade, the law that guarantees the constitutional right to an abortion, would be overturned, people turned to social media. They were expressing concerns about the privacy of this information — especially for people who live in states with strict limits on abortion — and how it might be used against them.

Many users recommended immediately deleting all personal data from period-tracking apps.

“If you are using an online period tracker or tracking your cycles through your phone, get off it and delete your data,” activist and attorney Elizabeth McLaughlin said in a viral tweet. “Now.”

Similarly, Eva Galperin, a cybersecurity expert, said the data could “be used to prosecute you if you ever choose to have an abortion.”

That got us wondering — are these concerns warranted, and should people who use period-tracking apps delete the data or the app completely from their phones? We asked the experts.

 

Is Your Period-Tracking App Data Shared?

Privacy policies — specifically, whether the apps sell information to data brokers, use the data for advertising, share it for research, or keep it solely within the app — vary substantially among companies.

“Does it encrypt? What’s its business model?” said Lucia Savage, chief privacy and regulatory officer for Omada Health, a digital therapeutics company. “If you can’t find terms of service or a privacy policy, don’t use that app.”

Period-tracking apps are often not covered under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, though if the company is billing for health care services, it can be. Still, HIPAA doesn’t prevent the company from sharing de-identified data. If the app is free — and the company is monetizing the data — then “you are the product” and HIPAA does not apply, Savage said.

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©2022 Kaiser Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
 

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