Why American Women Are Deleting Their Period-Tracking Apps

Experts are warning that women should be vigilant of other forms of digital communication, too.

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You may have noticed that in wake of the events of the weekend — that is, the US Supreme Court overturning the landmark Roe v Wade case and finding no constitutional right to an abortion — some social media users have been urging women to delete their period tracking apps.

So what’s going on?

What Are Period-Tracking Apps?

Many people who have periods use period-tracking apps to track their menstrual cycle. Some of the popular ones are Flo, Clue, Eve, and Glow — and they’re very handy for plugging in what days in the month you menstruate. Doing so, month after month, means that these apps are usually able to estimate when to expect your period, when you’re ovulating, when your period is late — and more. Some of the apps also allow you to record things like headaches, cramps, breast pain, spotting, flow levels, sex, and contraception.

It also makes it easy to know if you’ve missed a period, and therefore, if you have sex with men, could be pregnant.

Why Are American Women Deleting Them?

The problem is, this means some of these apps are holding on to a whole lot of sensitive information that — in the wrong hands — could easily get women into trouble.

“Period or menstrual cycle tracking apps can have some evidence of when you have a period, so if you miss a period, or miss a couple of periods and then your periods start again, it could be some sort of evidence that you had been pregnant and are no longer pregnant,” University of Sydney law professor Kimberlee Weatheral told SBS News.

This means that in US states where access to abortion will become restricted or banned, law enforcement agencies will be able to request this data, and prosecute individuals for what will become the crime of getting, assisting or performing an abortion.

Indeed, in January 2021, The New York Times reported that period-tracking and fertility app data was regularly pored over by lawmakers, and some period app companies were sharing intimate user data with Facebook and Google.

That’s because consumer health apps don’t usually need to comply with federal privacy laws — in particular, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) which protects patient data collected by and shared in healthcare settings.

It’s Not Just Period Apps

Experts are also warning that women should also be vigilant of other modes of digital communication.

“The fact is that there’s an awful lot of data on people’s devices and in their various communications to prove the case if there was an attempt to prosecute a person for having an abortion,” Professor Weatherall said.

That data might include emails, WhatsApp messages, interactions over Facebook messenger, texts, and more.

“And if that data exists, then police and prosecutors do have means to try and get that data by requesting it or subpoenaing it from the various organisations that hold that data.”