As technology advances, more women are choosing to track their monthly cycles using period apps, which can offer helpful predictions on menstruation, PMS and ovulation. However, what many women may not realise is that some of these Period apps share this sensitive information with other companies, including advertisers. New research from Nord VPN even suggests that the likelihood of getting a loan could depend on how you track your period…
Keeping a record of intimate data like periods, intercourses, weight, consumed alcohol,
cramps, or emotional state in period apps can not only help to predict a health condition, but may also lead to a denied health insurance. This is because users forget to take into account the privacy policies behind such tools.
Who’s interested in your periods?
Massive amounts of highly personal data logged in period trackers is not protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a federal law that restricts with whom healthcare providers can share it. “Insights into potential diseases provide financial institutions with information about higher risk customers before entering into a deal with them. Higher risk means higher prices and thus less chances to get life or health insurance,” says Daniel Markuson, digital privacy expert at NordVPN.
“Data logged in period apps should be treated the same way nudes are. When in the wrong hands, it can have financial implications and even lead to cyberstalking or harassment”, he adds.
Are the concerns justified?
Popular apps, including BabyCenter, Clue, Flo, My Calendar, and Ovia share their users’ data with third-party partners for advertising purposes. This is how the app developers
monetize their platforms, as users can use them for free. Apart from advertisers, brands have been caught working with corporate wellness programs, allowing employers and health insurers to monitor women’s reproductive health and intentions to get pregnant. Premom has recently been caught red-handed sharing customer data with Chinese analytics firms. Among other data, it shared unique device identifiers that can be used to follow users’ activities across other apps and websites.
How to protect your data if you still want to use period apps?
- Be careful when setting up privacy controls. It is advisable to prohibit the app from accessing contacts, photos, and location. Women should carefully check with whom the app is sharing their data and modify the list whenever possible.
- Protect your app with a password. Password managers, such as NordPass, can help you generate very secure passwords.
- Log your data in privacy. Another way to protect your data is to log the information only when a VPN connection is enabled. VPN technology creates a safe and private tunnel for browsing.
- Do not use the same email address for correspondence and app logins. Use an unassociated email address that can’t trace back to you.
5 groups of people interested in your menstrual cycle
Scientists are working on improving predictions of women’s health, including hormone
disorder, polycystic ovary syndrome, pains, cramps, and psychological issues, and period trackers are a great source of information. Studies can normally cover 50 subjects, while period tracking apps provide access to millions of detailed data entries.
Flo stopped sharing user information with Facebook after the Wall Street Journal revealed last February that the app shared detailed personal data, such as whether a user intended to become pregnant with Facebook. A study conducted by Consumer Reports shows that period apps BabyCenter, Clue, Flo, My Calendar, and Ovia share their users’ data with advertisers and marketers.
Insurance companies are highly interested in obtaining menstrual cycle data. Analyzing such data provides more insights into potential diseases and treatments an applicant might need in the future. Therefore, apps selling such data to insurance companies make it harder for its users to access better healthcare.
Despite the fact that discrimination related to pregnancy or fertility issues is
dropping, it is still an existing problem. Employers who know about a female employee’s plans to get pregnant might reconsider offering her a promotion. One way employers can become aware of that is through wellness programs they have with apps like Ovia.
Hackers may find period trackers worth hacking for the reasons mentioned above. Although NordVPN’s cybersecurity experts found no obvious vulnerabilities in some the
most popular apps (BabyCenter, Clue, Flo, MyCalendar, and Ovia), it doesn’t mean less
popular trackers don’t have any.