Period Tracking Apps Pose New Privacy Risks Following Roe v. wade

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(Photo: Nicola Styles/Unsplash)
For many people, menstrual cycle tracking apps are an essential way to keep tabs on their health. Now, following a leaked document regarding the upcoming Roe v. Wade of the Supreme Court, some users question whether the benefits of using such apps are worth the potential privacy risks.

Last week Politico share a document detailing the Supreme Court’s draft decision on Roe v. Wade, the landmark case protecting a person’s constitutional right to an abortion. The draft revealed that the Court was prepared to overturn its 1973 decision, “thus returning the question of abortion” to individual states, the majority of which are certain or likely to ban abortion outright if the decision was finalized.

Some people worry that these states will criminalize abortion a la Texas, which made abortions illegal after six weeks of pregnancy and can jail or fine people up to $10,000 for prescription abortion pills. (That concern seems valid, given that Tennessee has made it a Class E felony—punishable by a fine of up to $50,000—for delivering abortion drugs by mail or telehealth. a few days ago.) With fines, jail time and the threat of a criminal record at stake, people who use period-tracking apps have reason to fear that their digital fingerprints could be used against them.

Flo, a popular period tracker app for Android and iOS. (Picture: Flo)

Sounds like an unreasonable worry at first (point out naysayers insisting “it’ll never happen”), but it’s happened before: Mississippi woman was infamous charged for second-degree murder after prosecutors got hold of her internet search results, which included searches for “induce miscarriage” and “buy misoprostol abortion pill online.” And while someone’s Google history can be used in court, so can data from apps like Flo, Clue or Ovia, which aim to help users track their fertility and menstrual cycle. .

Period tracker apps are highly dependent on user input data such as their temperature, mood, last period, etc. If a user who has indicated that she missed her period requests an abortion, that user’s data could be used to help “prove” that she was pregnant at some point. And while most health-related apps claim to tightly guard user data, that’s not always the case: Flo, Apple’s App Store’s top period-tracking app, ran into trouble. with the Federal Trade Commission last year to share user data with Facebook and Google. Perhaps more importantly, these apps are as obligated as any other entity to respond to subpoenas.

The draft decision Roe v. The leaked Wade is just that — a project — which means abortion is still somewhat protected at the federal level. Yet healthcare providers, activists and others are already beginning to recommend that people who want abortions protect themselves online. Encrypted third-party communication apps (like Signal) keep your text messages and calls out of your cellular provider’s logs, while search engines that don’t track sensitive user data (like Duck-Duck-Go) offer more secure route to finding telehealth or in-person providers. Those seeking in-person care are also encouraged to turn off location services on their mobile devices when visiting related facilities.

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