Period tracker apps are often a useful tool when it comes to tracking your period. They can be used to record and monitor monthly symptoms, help recognize mood changes, and even aid birth control. There has been increasing concern, however, about the potential privacy issues with data collecting and sharing of personal information.
Here, we’re going to take a look at the risks of using a period tracker app, to help you decide whether you should use one at all.
What Does a Period Tracker App Do?
Period tracker apps provide a convenient way of tracking your monthly cycle. This can be particularly useful if you want to understand the natural rhythms, symptoms, and hormonal changes which happen to you throughout each month.
Many period tracker apps also offer insights about your period and accompanying symptoms. They can provide extra personalized information about why you might be experiencing certain symptoms—such as headaches, cramps, or mood changes—and provide lifestyle tips to help you manage these.
Period tracker apps can also be useful if you are trying to (or want to avoid) getting pregnant, by estimating when you might be most fertile.
How Does a Period Tracker App Collect Data?
All period tracker apps collect data when you use them. This can be collecting your age and location data from your profile, or any symptom data which you may log daily or monthly into the app.
Each piece of information you track—such as symptoms like headaches, when you last had sex, or when your period starts—becomes a data point in the app you are using.
Most of the data collected by period tracker apps are processed within the app itself. These data points get analyzed by the app to help provide predictions about your cycle, notify you if something seems unusual, and help with monthly pattern recognition.
There has been some concern, however, about personal data being shared and sold to third-party companies from period tracker apps.
What Does a Period Tracker App Do With Your Data?
When you are recording very intimate data about your body and period, the last thing you want to do is share it with anybody else.
There have been reports, however, of some period tracker apps sharing personal data with third party companies. In 2019, Privacy International released a report which found that some period trackers were sharing data with third parties, including Facebook.
The Federal Trade Commission also filed a complaint about period tracker app Flo. The complaint reported that Flo was handing “users’ health information out to numerous third parties”, including Google and Facebook.
The Problem With Period Tracker Apps and Your Data
In many countries, there are no laws which govern who your data is given to by the apps you use. This increases the risk for misuse or abuse of your personal information.
In the European Union, users are protected by General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The UK has similar data privacy laws to protect consumers. These laws require app developers to properly inform users about what happens with the data they share before they agree to use the app.
The problem with this, even in the EU or UK, is that the data policies written by app developers can be vague or confusing. If the app shares data with third parties, it can also be unclear as to who and where these third party companies reside. What’s worse is that, even when GDPR rules apply, this does not necessarily mean that the companies which handle your data will comply.
The perceived intention behind sharing user data from a period tracker app is to target users with personalized ads. The concern here is that advertisers can use data, such as an individual’s mood patterns or other psychological insights, as an entry point for manipulation.
For example, advertisers can see when an individual is feeling most vulnerable and target them with specific ads, perhaps selling them a product to help them feel better.
Are There Any Period Tracker Apps Which Are Safe to Use?
Following Privacy International’s 2019 exposure of period tracker apps which were sharing data, many of the investigated apps since changed their policies. This has improved, but not resolved, the issue.
If you are concerned about your privacy, but still want to use a period tracker for all the benefits they give, there are steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Regularly reset your Google Advertising ID. On Android devices, you can find this under Settings > Google > Ads > Reset Advertising ID.
- Opt out of ad personalization. On Android devices, you can find this under Settings > Google > Ads > Opt out of Personalized Advertising.
- Review app permissions and restrict data access to only what is essential. On Android devices, you can find this under Settings > Apps or App Manager > Apps > select the app you want to review > Permissions.
You also have the right to ask an app for what personal data of yours they are storing by filing a subject access request.
Should I Delete My Period Tracker App?
Some personal data is required for the functionality of a health app. But, if you are worried about your data, privacy, or the impact using a period tracker might have, the best thing to do is delete the app.