Can data from the Period-Tracker app be used if you have an abortion?

ByLance T. Lee

Oct 4, 2022

Image source: Getty / Kilito Chan

When the The Supreme Court effectively overruled Roe v. Wade, this sparked a storm of reactions – and rightly so. Celebrities spoke out, TikTok activists rallied behind the pro-choice movement, and hashtags like #RoevWade were trending on Twitter.

Predictably, the extensive media coverage has raised myriad questions about what the cancellation of Roe v. Wade – and not just for access to abortion, but also for other issues. (Will IVF become illegal? Will same-sex marriage be annulled? Should you stock up on emergency contraception?)

In a viral tweet posted in May, after the leaked opinion indicated that the SCOTUS was likely to topple Roe, Elizabeth C. McLaughlinan author, lawyer and activist, wrote, “If you’re using an online period tracker or tracking your cycle through your phone, quit it and delete your data.”

In the long thread, she went on to accuse Peter Thiel – an entrepreneur and venture capitalist who invested in Palantir, a spy technology system – to allegedly sell “data to locate marginalized people to the government”.

“If you think your data showing when you had your last period is of no interest to those about to ban abortion, phew, I have a red flag for YOU,” he said. she continued. “Combine that with location information and the date of your last period and where you seek health care and you have a target on your back.”

She also pointed out that “a prosecutor can subpoena your menstrual data to any company and that company can be forced by a court to comply.”

On June 24, in President Biden’s speech at the White House following the court’s release of its formal ruling, he too appeared to have concerns about the privacy rights of those who use tracking apps. rules. In his speech, he said: “Some states say they will try to ban or severely restrict access to these [abortion] medications. But extremist governors and state legislatures seek to block mail or search someone’s medicine cabinet or police a woman’s actions by tracking data on her apps she uses,” said Biden.[They] are wrong and extreme and out of touch with the majority of Americans. »

While it may seem extreme or far-fetched to consider being cautious with period tracking apps, the reality is that many of us never thought we’d see Roe v. Wade knocked down, and yet here we are. So we decided to check with real experts if you should be wary of having a period tracker app on your phone, now that the post-Roe v. Wade is officially here.

Should people delete their period tracking apps?

Potentially. It depends on several factors, including whether you live in a state where abortion is now illegal, whether you use a period tracker app to regularly monitor your cycle, and whether you’ve had an abortion. If all rings true, then “it’s possible that data from your rule-tracking apps could be subpoenaed and therefore used against you in court,” Marco Bellin, data security expert and founder and CEO of Datacappy VPN ( a company dedicated to helping individuals in preserving their privacy and helping them use the internet safely), says.

Here’s how it works: Because you use data from the period tracker app to see when you’re ovulating, track your cycle, and monitor period-related symptoms, it’s possible that the data you enter could be used to predict when you probably would. And in case you have an abortion, “it could possibly be used to prove that someone got pregnant and ultimately didn’t have a child — or to prove when specifically someone got pregnant,” says Bellin.

Of course, this will heavily depend on what each individual’s state jurisdiction looks like with respect to privacy rules, but David Reischer, Esq., attorney and CEO of LegalAdvice.com, confirms that legally, there is no There is no law in place that would restrict private companies (eg, rule-tracking apps) from returning data. “Theoretically, private companies could hand over the data to big government to be used for prosecution in an illegal abortion lawsuit.”

Legally, there are no laws in place that would prevent private companies from handing over data to the government.

That could be because rule-tracking apps have no HIPAA protection, Bellin says. (Recall that HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, and it’s a federal law that “protects sensitive patient health information from disclosure without consent. or knowledge of the patient,” according to the CDC.)

Since policy-tracking apps don’t have HIPAA protection, that means app developers don’t have to protect your personal information. And since “any free application collects information from you in order to make a profit, according to the laws created, most of your digital information can be subpoenaed by a court and thus used against you if the actions you take are in violation. somehow considered illegal,” confirms Bellin.

For this reason, Bellin says you should probably avoid using period tracking apps — and any tracking apps in general — because “they collect highly personal information and aren’t required to keep it confidential.”

As for what period tracker apps do in the midst of it all: On June 30, Flo – an ovulation calendar, period tracker, and pregnancy app – released a new feature called “Anonymous Mode.” in order to better protect your health. information. This feature will allow subscribers to “use the Flo app without having any personal identifying information such as name, email address, and technical ID associated with their account,” according to the app.

Flo also added, “In the event that Flo receives an official request to identify a user by name or email, anonymous mode will prevent Flo from being able to connect data to an individual, which means that Flo would not be able to meet the demand.” (If you would like to learn more about Flo’s privacy practices regarding its data protection policies, you can do so here.)

While this is just one example of what period tracking apps do to make users feel safer, it’s normal to still feel scared or skeptical. And luckily, you have other options if you’re not comfortable with a period-tracking app right now. Bellin recommends using a handwritten tracker of your menstrual cycle or updating it in an Excel spreadsheet. He cautions, however, to avoid using the term “menstruation” or “period” on any tracker created online. Instead, “use an emoji or fake term that you create, so if someone accesses your calendar or spreadsheet, they won’t be able to crack your code and track your period.”

All in all, know that conversations like this aren’t meant to scare you – although we admit they can be scary. But in a time when people have lost the right to bodily autonomy, it’s important to do everything in your power to protect yourself, especially when it’s obvious the government doesn’t want to protect you. So if you feel better about deleting your period tracker app, you should feel good about making that decision. If you don’t want to, you need to feel empowered to make that decision as well. Because after all it is important that you have a choice do what you want – in all facets of your life.



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