SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — A tweet from attorney and activist Elizabeth C. McLaughlin has many considering something they had never thought of before. Should they delete their period tracker app?
“If you are using an online period tracker or tracking your cycles through your phone, get off it and delete your data,” McLaughlin said in the now-viral tweet on Tuesday.
The message was in response to a recently leaked draft that indicated the U.S. Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade.
Roe v. Wade was a landmark decision that granted abortion rights in the United States. Now that it is in jeopardy of being overturned this summer, McLaughlin warns that people who use period tracker apps should be wary.
“If you think that your data showing when you last menstruated isn’t of interest to those who are about to outlaw abortion, whew do I have a wakeup call for YOU,” she tweeted.
But why should you be worried about your data, if you should be worried at all?
The data collected by these apps is not protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA.) HIPAA ensures that your doctor is not able to share your medical information.
In theory, these apps could sell your information to anti-abortion groups that could then go on to use your information in the case that you do choose to have an abortion.
This information could be used as evidence that you were late, missed a cycle or had unprotected sex. All of these things are able to be reported on many period tracker apps.
Do these apps actually share your data?
The New York Times recently reported that from 2016 to 2019 the company behind the popular period tracking app Flo shared intimate health details to Facebook and Google for advertising purposes. This was according to a complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in January.
The complaint said that the FTC had reason to believe that the app had misled its users in its privacy statement. However, in March of 2022 the company released a statement saying that they do not share information with third parties and that they went through an audit that showed they have “no weaknesses in privacy practices.”
A study from a British nonprofit group called Privacy International found that two out of a number of popular period tracking apps were sharing information with Facebook and other companies.
However, according to McLaughlin, the concern should not be that these apps will share your data but instead that it can be used by a court as evidence.
“It’s not just about the sale of data,” she tweeted, “It’s about motivated prosecutors who want to criminalize abortion under state law issuing subpoenas for your data.”
Eva Galperin, the Director of Cyber Security at the Electronic Frontier Foundation echoed this sentiment in a tweet on Tuesday.
“If you are in the United States and you are using a period tracking app, today is good day to delete it before you create a trove of data that will be used to prosecute you if you ever choose to have an abortion,” she tweeted.
So what can you use instead?
If you’re worried about the use of your private data, you can always turn back to the classic pen and paper method of tracking your period. This link from Planned Parenthood shows how to use the calendar method to track your period.