Period tracking apps are seen as a convenient way to monitor your reproductive health. They can track your period, predict ovulation and help you understand what happens to your body during your menstrual cycle. While these apps can be super helpful, they can also pose a privacy risk. When we're putting so much personal information into these apps, it's important to be aware of who might have access to that data and how they might be used against you. This article will explain what you need to know about period tracker apps and privacy.
In order to give you a more personalized experience and make your cycles more accurate, period tracker apps collect personal data about you. This includes the following:
When you use a period tracking app, you are entering into a contract with the company that made the app. You are agreeing to let them have access to your data for their own purposes in exchange for using their service. This means that when you use these apps they have access to your menstrual cycle history and other personal details about your body such as weight and height. In addition, they may collect information about where you live and what kind of phone or tablet you use so they can improve their software.
The companies that make period tracking apps are the primary beneficiaries of your personal data. These apps are free to download and use, but you pay for them by giving away your sensitive information. These companies make money by selling your data. They serve up advertisements based on things like what kind of birth control you use and when in your cycle you're having sex or planning on it. It's not just ads they sell though—they also share your information with third-party businesses like marketers who want to sell products specifically targeted at menstruating women (or men).
There is a lot of money to be made from selling people their own personal data. App developers, advertisers, and advertisers' customers are all beneficiaries when you use a period tracking app. Period tracking apps can collect data about you like your age and location, which can be used to target ads more effectively on social media platforms. The makers of these apps make money by selling this information to companies that want to advertise their products directly toward users who fit their target demographic.
Medical researchers also benefit from aggregated user data taken from the various period tracker apps. The more people who download an app and participate in its studies, the more useful those studies will be. Researchers can then take this aggregate data and use it for their own studies about reproductive health issues such as fertility treatments or endometriosis treatment options
If you are uncomfortable with the idea of your data being shared then you should delete the app. Period tracking apps will know when and where you are having periods, how long they last, and how many days in a row you had them. It's not hard to see why people would feel uncomfortable with that kind of data being collected especially if you live in a state where abortion was actively being criminalized.
The Supreme Court's leaked draft opinion on Roe v. Wade, which would overturn the landmark 1973 decision that guaranteed women's right to an abortion, has sparked a new wave of fear. Privacy experts are increasingly concerned about how data collected from period-tracking apps and other applications could potentially be used to penalize anyone seeking or considering an abortion. The Supreme Court's draft opinion argues that the right to an abortion can be regulated by state legislatures, and that those legislatures are entitled to consider any information about a pregnant woman that would be relevant to such regulation. The opinion also states that there is no constitutional right to access contraception or family planning services.
If you're concerned about your privacy, there are a few alternatives to period tracking apps.
The most popular alternative is a paper calendar, paper calendars are one of the easiest ways to track your cycle without an app. This is a great option if you're looking for something low-tech and don't mind writing things down by hand. You can buy one at any drugstore or there are plenty of printable calendars available online that are free and won't require any data.
If you want something digital but don't want to give an app access to your phone's health data, try using your phone’s calendar, Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook as a tracking tool instead of an app. Because they are not using data for targeted ads, they can be a step up from period tracking apps. However, if you use one to track your period and are worried, you can use code or emojis to mark the dates of your cycle instead, remember that these services have their own security risks and privacy concerns.
You might also consider creating a spreadsheet on Google Sheets or Excel to track your cycle data over time. A simple calendar template or spreadsheet where you can enter the first and last day of your period will suffice. If you want a spreadsheet to track your ovulation and fertility, make sure to leave enough room to note your temperature and body fluids, as well. Planned Parenthood offers a free guide for anyone new to these methods of fertility tracking, known as fertility awareness methods (FAMs).
With the rise in popularity of period tracker apps, it’s important to have a discussion about privacy—specifically, why these apps should not be tracking our data. We hope this article has given you some helpful tips about how to keep your data safe and private as much as possible.
If privacy concerns make it difficult for you to use your favorite period tracker app, there are safer alternatives available. We encourage you to do research about any app you download, regardless of whether it is a period tracker or not.
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