This is how the ‘apps’ that control the rule use your data

hundreds of millions of women from all over the world turn daily to mobile apps to schedule your menstrual cycles and their periods ovulation. However, not all of them manage the sensitive clinical information of their users responsibly and some have even been denounced for exposing the privacy.

That is why the Spanish firm Ethics Research & Consultingfounded by researcher Gemma Galdonhas prepared a report that analyzes and details what use they make of the data on the rule the apps most popular in the country. And the study draws a worrying conclusion: “many of these applications share data with third parties (…) often for commercial purposes.”

Among the 12 applications dissected are My Menstrual Calendar, Flo, clue, Cycles, WomanLog, Period Tracker or My Fitness, among others. The first three have more than 100, 50 and 10 million downloads respectively, which gives an image of their popularity. The market for feminine health technology has not stopped growing and is expected to have a volume of about 50,000 million dollars in 2025.

Share your data

The Eticas study concludes that most of these ‘apps’ collect and share with third parties personal data of users such as the number of tampons either compresses used. Companies like Clue have indicated that this data is shared for scientific research, an assumption that has special permissions in the legislation. However, the report notes that commercial purposes are also included.

In the European Union (EU), the European Regulation on Data Protection (GDPR, for its acronym in English) requires applications that want to transfer this data to require the consent of the users, something that, according to Galdón, is insufficient. “The law speaks of free and informed consent and we have seen how many of these policies are incomprehensible to users,” he points out. Of all these applications, only WomanLog does not sell or share data of its users under any circumstances. The others leave the door open to that possibility.

Five of the ‘apps’ analyzed by Eticas have confusing privacy policies. One, Menstrual Calendar, does not directly have a space dedicated to informing users about what data is shared. Hiding those clauses in long texts plagued with technical jargon is a common tactic in technology industry to make it easier for users to agree to accept terms and conditions that they do not know.

Sensitive information

Another of the justifications used by the companies behind these applications is that the data is transferred anonymously. A priori, that would make it difficult to identify the users. “It is something totally false, even if they eliminate the name of the person, it is evident that they have the capacity to know all the personal information that is associated with that account and that telephone number,” warns the executive director of Eticas.

The Eticas report warns that through these data “you can find out (…) when you are menstruating, if you are looking for a baby or if, on the contrary, you want to avoid it.” Already in 2019 a Privacy International study pointed out that those applications could know our sex lifehabits of masturbation or the use of contraceptives, information “accessible to others” and “vulnerable to attack”. Although the law protects medical data with greater regulations, these ‘apps’ violate it by not considering it as such.

Related news

This kind of fertility data is increasingly lucrative for a digital advertising industry that thrives on privacy. In 2020 another research of Privacy International uncovered that ‘apps’ such as Clue or Flo had sent users’ menstrual data to Facebook. The Mi Salud app, pre-installed by default on all devices from Manzana, has not entered the Ethics study because it goes far beyond menstrual information. “The level of invasion is such that they can know before you if you are pregnant,” Galdón warns.

You never know how this information can harm you if it ends up in the wrong hands. In USAfor example, the impending repeal of the federal right to abortion has triggered alerts for the use of applications that would allow women who decide to go to a pregnancy termination clinic to be harassed and criminalized.

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