The overturning of Roe v. Wade sent shockwaves of distress and anger through the United States. We are still in shock that we now have fewer rights than our mothers and grandmothers. There is a long road ahead of us to achieve reproductive justice for all, and this overturning felt like a step back from that goal.
The Supreme Court decision not only affects abortions, but other sectors of reproductive justice as well, such as medical care for in vitro fertilization treatments, abortion pills, the rise of medical and insurance costs for maternity care, and miscarriage treatments.
One concern following Roe's overturn is data privacy in period tracking apps. People who use these apps are concerned that their data could be used to prove if they were pregnant and if they got an abortion. This fear sparked a wave of activists on Twitter warning people to delete their period tracking apps because they could sell their data and this could be extremely dangerous if the user is seeking an abortion in a state that has criminalized it.
Why is tracking your period important?
People track their periods for many different reasons. Being able to predict when your period is going to come is a major one, but it's also used to try to get pregnant, to avoid getting pregnant, to understand your symptoms, and to get in tune with your body's hormone levels.
When it comes to abortion access, period tracking can be a crucial step. Pregnancy is measured from the date of your last period. This means that even if you had sex and got pregnant two weeks ago, you could still be considered 5 weeks pregnant because your last period was 5 weeks ago. In states that ban abortions after a certain number of weeks, knowing this information about your period and being able to take action quickly can save lives. It's also why tracking data is so important to keep safe.
Period Tracker Apps and User Privacy
Flo and Clue were among the first apps to react to the Supreme Court decision by releasing statements reassuring users that their data will be protected. They assured users that they won’t be aiding authorities in states that have banned or severely restricted abortions by giving them users’ data. Flo said in a tweet, “We will soon be launching an ‘Anonymous Mode’ that removes your personal identity from your Flo account, so that no one can identify you”. Flo also made statements reassuring users that with a direct to consumer subscription business model, they don’t profit from selling users’ information to big companies, and their priority is the consumer.
Some Republican state legislators have suggested using a person’s location and browsing data to prosecute them for seeking an abortion out of state, prompting reproductive justice activists to call for federal consumer data privacy laws. Democratic lawmakers are also calling on federal agencies to increase data privacy protection for patients seeking abortions.
SafeGraph, a location data firm, obtains location data from ordinary apps installed on peoples’ phones. App developers add code into their apps that sends users’ location data to companies in exchange for the developer receiving payment. App users don’t know that their phone—be that via a social app, a weather app, or even a prayer app—is collecting and sending location data to third parties. Motherboard has even reported on cases of transferring data to U.S. military contractors. SafeGraph sold information related to visits to clinics that provide abortions, including Planned Parenthood facilities, showing where groups of people visiting the locations came from, how long they stayed there, and where they went afterwards. These data sets are being purchased completely independent of Planned Parenthood and the other clinics involved. Since this information has leaked, SafeGraph has stated it voluntarily stopped selling the information.
How much of this is fear mongering?
Reading Twitter threads can be dangerous and misleading about the actual danger of period tracking apps. First thing's first- don't believe everything you read on the internet. Check people's sources and read up on these topics to form your own opinions and boundaries based on reputable research. The likelihood of the US government targeting and arresting people for getting abortions based on missing periods from tracking app data is extremely low. How many times have you just forgotten to put in your period days (for me, that's like every other month...) It is unrealistic that the government is able to weed out and draw conclusions about abortions based on this data alone.
Data privacy is an extremely important issue that must be regulated on a federal level, but it's good to take a step back and assess the level of fear that is rational for this specific problem. Fear mongering on social media is not productive, especially on a problem as severe as reproductive justice.
How to Track Your Period Safely
If you're worried about your data and want to stay safe while still tracking your period, pen and paper are always the safest option! Pick up a cute planner or calendar (there are some really cute printable templates on Etsy) and mark your period the old fashioned way!