Ruling Sparks Calls to Delete Period Apps

Experts caution data could be used in abortion prosecutions
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 26, 2022 4:55 PM CDT
Updated Jun 27, 2022 1:14 AM CDT
Ruling Sparks Calls to Delete Period Apps
An example of a period app.   (Getty Images/bsd555)

Many users find menstrual period tracking apps helpful in trying to become pregnant, or avoid pregnancy, or just know when they're due for their next period. But the Supreme Court's rejection of Roe v. Wade increased the fear that the data collected by the apps could be turned against the user, Mashable reports, so the word went out on social media: Delete your period tracking apps now. With abortion being outlawed and criminalized, experts told Wired, fertility and period-tracking apps could provide data to law enforcement that would aid prosecution.

Those living in states criminalizing having an abortion or helping someone access the procedure, especially, need to keep in mind that a cellphone is a tracking device, said Jackie Singh, who was a senior cybersecurity staffer on President Biden's presidential campaign. "While most people tend to leave our Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and location services on all the time for convenience, and rarely use a VPN or other privacy-protecting software, people who may be newly prosecuted as criminals no longer have the luxury of behaving as entirely free and lawful citizens," Singh said.

Users typically enter into such products as Flo, Clue, and Apple's Health app information including when menstruation began and ended and how heavy flow was. After learning the patterns, apps help predict when the user might be most fertile, when their next period is due, and whether they've missed a period and might want to take a pregnancy test. The concern now is that the apps might be able to show that users have had an abortion, or even that they're considering it. The Wall Street Journal found last year that Flo, which has 43 million active users, was letting Facebook know when users had their periods and when they were trying to become pregnant.

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Developers of some of the apps are working on making use of the apps anonymous, per the Journal. "The goal is to make it so no one—not even us at Natural Cycles—can identify the user," said co-founder Raoul Scherwitzl. But he said it's a challenge. And getting rid of the app is no guarantee. "Deleting your app from your phone does not always mean you’ve deleted your data anywhere other than your device," a professor said. "Sometimes you have to contact an app’s customer-service support team directly to ensure that your historical data has been wiped on the developer's end." Another expert said, "Actually knowing where your data has gone and if your data was sold is almost impossible in this day and age." (More Roe v. Wade stories.)

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