Should I stop tracking my period with an app?

Reproduced from Rock Health; Graphic: Axios Visuals

Nearly a third of menstruating respondents used at least one digital tool to track their period and/or fertility, Rock Health found in a new report on digital period tracking.

Why is this important: The personal right to privacy was embedded in Roe v. Wade, and his overthrow already threatens those protections, including with respect to the use of digital products that track fertility and ovulation, Rock Health analysts note.

Example : In Nebraska, where abortions are illegal after 20 weeks gestation, law enforcement this month issued a subpoena and viewed Facebook messages between a woman and her 17-year-old daughter.

  • Authorities used the messages as evidence to charge the mother with two felonies that carry a sentence of up to two years in prison.

What is happening: Assessing the results of a 2021 survey, Rock Health analyzes its latest data to paint a picture of digital fertility tracking behaviors ahead of the Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June.

By the numbers: Among Rock Health respondents who said they use a digital period tracker, nearly 60% said they use a mobile app.

  • Another third said they used a wearable accessory.
  • And about a quarter said they use a digital diary.

How it works: Period-tracking apps and wearable devices contain data that could suggest someone is pregnant.

  • Combine that digital fingerprint with data like location information or medical claims, and an outside observer might be able to conclude if someone is seeking abortion care.

Threat level: When law enforcement authorities demand personal data belonging to people suspected of having abortions, tech companies are likely to hand it over, write our colleagues Ina Fried and Margaret Harding McGill.

  • Through warrants and subpoenas, law enforcement officials can access location data, content, usernames and more.
  • They can now get that same data from abortion surveys in states that have criminalized it, India McKinney, director of federal affairs for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Ina and Margaret in June.

What they say : People who use their period or other health-tracking apps face a confusing dilemma, analysts at Rock Health say.

  • “Although digital health tools can help consumers prevent unwanted pregnancy, if problems arise and abortion care is sought, the data generated by these tools can be used against them.”

State of play: Several reproductive health startups may already be seeing their users react to the Dobbs decision, according to the Rock Health researchers.

  • Clue, a Berlin-based period tracker app, saw a 2,200% increase in app downloads after the company announced its data was protected by European data privacy laws and could not be shared. assigned to the United States.
  • And Flo, a London-based period tracker, has created a setting called “anonymous mode”, which allows users to opt out of disclosing personally identifiable information.

And after: Rock Health researchers say we could see digital period-tracking behaviors drop in states with limited access to abortion.

  • This could reduce the representation of affected communities (including participation in research) in digital health, which in turn could worsen existing inequalities in the space, they write.
  • “Digital health companies need to consider how reproductive oppression has worked in this country for black women, immigrant women, poor women and others who give birth,” said Erika Seth Davies, CEO of Rhia Ventures at Rock Health.
  • “There are ways in which this moment will aggravate the tendency to criminalize certain groups as opposed to others,” adds Seth Davies.

Lance B. Holton