Period Tracking Apps and Your Privacy

Period Tracking Apps and Your Privacy

Femtech (the umbrella term that covers all tech related to women’s* health) is expected to exceed worldwide sales of $50 billion dollars by the year 2025. Like any other tech product, period tracking apps—along with many other types of femtech such as fertility apps, smart breast pumps, and intuitive sex toys that connect to an app—are constantly finding new ways to monetize their product for maximum profit. In other words, the app itself isn’t where the company makes their money, it’s the data being collected and sold that has the biggest financial value.  

How does data collection happen in the first place? The recent controversy over FaceApp, an AI face editing app that requires entering personal data as well as uploading high quality pictures of yourself, is a perfect illustration of how data is collected, stored, and sold with your consent. It all comes down to clicking the “I agree” button at the bottom of the Terms of Use page without reading the actual contract you’re agreeing to. This phenomenon is hardly unusual, a survey of 2000 Americans found that 97 percent of adults aged 18-34 don’t read the terms they’re agreeing to, while 91 percent of adults aged 35 and up skipped right to the end before giving their consent. 

Selling data is not an uncommon practice. In fact, most apps (especially free apps with ads) use data brokers to sell apps to interested parties. Who buys data? Marketing companies, corporations, credit card companies, banks, as well as government operations such as CSIS and ICE. What makes period tracking apps distinct from other apps is the type of data being collected. For most apps, everything from your device settings, websites visited, and information about other types of apps you have on your phone is fair game. Unfortunately for period tracking apps, this also includes the sensitive information you volunteer when using the app: whether or not you’ve had sex, had an orgasm, intimate details about your bodily functions, as well as details about your mental health. 

So how can you protect yourself and your data from being brokered? Make informed decisions about the tech you choose to support (or consider using a daytimer or notebook to track ovulation, premenstrual symptoms, and period specifics. 

*Although some femtech companies are using more trans and nonbinary inclusive language most companies still only use the pronoun her and refer to their customers as women/ladies/girls. At Lunapads, we think this practice really sucks. 


How to track your period as an informed consumer

The German period tracking app Clue offers the most transparency as to how your data is collected—it also refers to itself as a gender-neutral company but the actual language used on their website is uneven at best (it was Clue founder Ida Tin who coined the term femtech in 2016). Clue’s privacy policy is written using easy to understand wording absent of non-legal jargon, breaking their policy down into manageable chunks. It states that Clue stores data for app improvement and some promotional material, your name and email address are not stored. Clue does not store sensitive data pertaining to your personal health and login information unless you give your explicit consent to the app (which requires setting up a password-protected account). This data is used in select academic and medical studies to further study health issues associated with reproductive health. 

If you’re an Excel or Numbers whiz you can create design your own spreadsheet to track your menstrual cycle (and then share the template with others!). Alternately, a quick Google search will produce multiple sites offering free printable Excel spreadsheet templates.

For some people, a good old-fashioned calendar is still the easiest and most reliable form of period and ovulation tracking. Create your own coded legend to mark down specific symptoms and bodily functions to make analog tracking even simpler.

Ashley Linkletter is a mental health, food, and nutrition writer based in Vancouver, BC.

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