Period-tracking apps are the latest group of health and wellness tech to face public scrutiny since news leaked of the U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of overturning a 1973 ruling allowing women to have an abortion without excessive government restriction.
While the decision has not yet been confirmed, concerns surrounding the data practices of period tracking apps have already heightened. If someone seeks an illegal abortion, the thinking goes, could they be caught out by law enforcement based on the data found in her period-tracking app?
A recent report from Vice’s Motherboard highlights how easy it is to obtain sensitive data pertaining to a person’s menstrual cycle from third-party vendors and possibly be acquired by law enforcement agencies.
Amid growing uncertainty over how this data may be acquired and used by different companies and government agencies, it would be prudent to at least consider alternatives for tracking menstrual cycles—and indeed your other health data.
What data do period-tracking apps collect?
On the most basic level, period or menstruation apps help users log their cycles and can help to predict when their next period starts.
But period tracking apps, which are often used to track fertility for avoiding or attempting to get pregnant, might store a lot more than that—a “dizzying” amount of data, as a 2020 study conducted by Privacy International puts it. This could include sexual activity, fertility windows, flow changes, and many more menstrual symptoms and side effects.
Depending on how any Supreme Court ruling is interpreted and implemented in each state, law enforcement may be empowered to obtain this data, in addition to the social media posts, email records, location data, and more to build a case.
As The Electronic Frontier Foundation predicts:
“Service providers can expect a raft of subpoenas and warrants seeking user data that could be employed to prosecute abortion seekers, providers, and helpers.
They can also expect pressure to aggressively police the use of their services to provide information that may be classified in many states as facilitating a crime.”
Even without this Supreme Court decision, this data was available for marketers and advertisers to collect and target users; now, there is an additional legal risk that users put themselves in if they keep using these apps.
Track your period the old-fashioned ways
If you’re concerned about your personal information being collected on your menstrual apps, here are a few alternatives that keep data about your period private. Apple and Google both have native health apps that can help you track your period, but if you’re looking to maintain complete privacy and control over who sees your menstrual cycle, we would caution you not to use them.
1. Set up a spreadsheet
Spreadsheets don’t require you to upload your information to the cloud, nor sync online with other apps and services. Templates are available to download and give you the freedom to customize how you want to track your cycle. Be sure to password-protect your spreadsheets too.
2. Use a calendar
Create a calendar specific to recording your cycle. Calendars on your computer can be used to track different start and end times, as well as any other symptoms you might be experiencing. Be wary of syncing your calendar to the cloud, and consider creating your own calendar in a password-protected spreadsheet
3. Use pen, paper, and a thermometer
A paper notebook or calendar is the only reliably offline way of tracking your cycle, providing you can keep it safe from anyone looking to find it.
Measuring your temperature first thing in the morning can help you determine when your fertility windows are, and you can create a coded language in your notes (and in any of the above methods) to obscure the data you’re collecting.
The most important thing to note with the above methods is that all that data stays offline, and stays with you. You decide how you record and protect that information, and you don’t have to worry about your data being collected and shared with third parties.
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