Women delete period tracker apps over after US overturned abortion ruling

Women delete period tracker apps over after US overturned abortion ruling
Protest for women's rights. Credit: Unsplash

Women in the USA have recently deleted or switched period tracking apps from their smartphones due to fears that data might be harvested and used against them in potential criminal cases in states where abortion has become illegal.

Furthermore, words used to replace the word "abortion" are beginning to appear. On TikTok for instance, some now use the term "going camping" to protect their medical privacy.

It is unclear to what extent women in Europe have deleted the apps, but privacy advocates warn that sharing intimate data within apps carries risks as app providers often share sensitive data with third parties for marketing purposes.

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As with other apps, menstrual cycle trackers collect, retain and sometimes share user data. In a state where abortion has now become a crime, prosecutors could use information from these apps to build a case against someone now found to be in breach of the stricter laws.

"If they are trying to prosecute a woman for an illegal abortion, they can subpoena any app on their device, including period trackers," said Sara Spector, a Texas-based criminal defence attorney, in the Guardian.

Data sharing

Data privacy activists European Digital Rights (EDRi) point out that apps share data without explicit consent from users as their "privacy statements are often long and difficult to read, and require good reading-between-the-lines skills to understand that data is being shared with 'partners'."

Women in Europe using European apps aren't necessarily safe from having their data collected from US companies. In the Netherlands, one of the most used cycle tracker apps, 'Menstruatie Kalender', gives Facebook permission to show advertisements. It isn't clear what information Facebook gets from users to show advertisements.

Which apps to use

EDRi suggests users read carefully privacy statements to know exactly how their data is used before downloading apps. Planned Parenthood in the US encourages people to use apps that allow them to stay anonymous. Period or birth control data is saved locally on a person's phone and can be deleted when deleting the app.

Users can benefit from Planned Parenthood's app 'Spot On', which only saves data locally and doesn't share it with third parties. In addition, Apple has a built-in tracker that offers more privacy than third-party apps, as one can turn off data storing in iCloud.

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