Delete period tracking apps, privacy experts recommend after Roe vs Wade

A chilling warning has gone out across the United States about exactly what authorities could do with personal data stored on womens’ phones.

Women in the US are concerned about how far authorities will go to stop abortions after a historic decision ended their legal right to terminate a pregnancy in their first two trimesters.

Advocates are concerned that a woman’s search history, location data and period tracking apps could be used by authorities to find out if she is pregnant, if she is considering abortion and if she goes through with the abortion.

On Saturday morning AEST, millions of American women lost the legal right to have an abortion after the US Supreme Court overturned a landmark ruling which for nearly half a century had protected women.

Roe v Wade, which in 1973 provided the constitutional right to abortions up until foetal viability, was overturned on Friday local time.

It is now up to each state to determine whether women can have legal abortions.

However, 26 states are either”certain or likely” to ban abortions, according to a research group.

If abortion is criminalised, period-tracking apps could have no choice but to share their customers’ most personal data. .

In a now-viral Twitter post, US author Jessica Khoury warned her followers. “Delete your period tracking apps today,” she wrote.

The six-word tweet has so far resonated with 350,000 people, with many wading into the comments section to express their horror that it has come to this point.

Although a period tracking app holds seemingly inconsequential information about its users, it is now potentially very dangerous in the wrong hands.

Customers tell the app what day their period starts and stops, allowing it to predict when it will come next, when they’ll be most fertile and if their period is late — or if they’ve missed their period altogether.

When abortions become a criminal act, this kind of information would be very damning for women who become pregnant and seek an abortion.

Some jumped into the comments section of the viral tweet to advise which period tracking companies to use and which to avoid for this very reason.

A European app called Clue, which says it has around 12 million customers, immediately issued a statement assuring its users their data was secure.

“As we are based in Berlin, as a European country, Clue is obliged under European law (the General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR) to apply special protections to our users’ reproductive health data. We will not disclose it. We will stand up for our users,” they said.

Another period tracker, Stardust, made a similar statement, saying: “In light of the recent news about Roe v. Wade, we want to make our commitment clear to you. We are a women-owned app founded on a belief in freedom of choice and freedom of privacy.

“We do not sell data. We have never sold data. We will never sell data.

“We have encrypted your information to ensure that no governments or companies will ever access data that belongs to you and you alone. It will stay this way forever.”

US period-tracking company Flo, which has 43 million and claims to be the most popular app of its kind, disturbingly already has a history of sharing data information.

Flo has been embroiled in controversy after the Wall Street Journal revealed that the app shared data with Facebook about their users’ periods and plans to get pregnant.

Last year, the US government reached a settlement with Flo on the basis that the company had misled customers about its privacy policies.

In response to the Roe v Wade ruling, Flo has pledged to launch a new “anonymous mode” in an effort to address privacy concerns

One person said “If your app isn‘t putting out a statement, or hasn’t already put out a statement, via social media, consider switching (especially if they are US based).”

One Twitter user who used Flo said deleting the app wasn’t enough — you had to make sure your past data was also wiped.

“An important note on this: DELETING THE APP DOES NOT DELETE THE DATA — you must request for your data to be wiped,” one Twitter user warned in the comments,” she wrote.

“Before deleting your app you must reach out to your app’s support team (example for Flo: [email protected]) and request that ALL of your data is wiped.”

She added: “the process can take up to a month”.

US-based National Public Radio (NPR) spoke to a privacy expert, Evan Greer of the digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future, who warned that the government’s ability to track women extended beyond period apps.

“Any app that is collecting sensitive information about your health or your body should be given an additional level of scrutiny,” Ms Greer said.

According to the digital expert, if a woman sits in the waiting room of an abortion clinic and plays a game on her phone, that app might be scraping location data and could share it with the government.

Some suggested doing it the old-fashioned way, tracking your period manually with pen and paper to save the pain of data breaches later on.

Cyber security experts have also advised women in this situation to use DuckDuckGo rather than Google, so that none of their search history is stored or can be linked back to them if they research things like where to get an abortion.

Andrea Ford, an expert in privacy rules and a research fellow at the University of Edinburgh, also spoke to NPR.

“If I lived in a state where abortion was actively being criminalised, I would not use a period tracker — that‘s for sure,” she said.

“If you want to be safe, use a paper calendar.”

Originally published as Privacy experts recommend deleting period tracking apps as Roe v Wade abortion decision overturned

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