Users have been urged to uninstall period- tracking apps from their devices and remove their information from associated services since the Supreme Court's draft decision to overturn abortion rights was leaked. Data from such apps could be used in criminal investigations against abortion seekers, and a missed period could be used as evidence of a crime, because abortion is now illegal in many states.
Many of these services have histories of shady practices that have resulted in fines and regulatory scrutiny. Mis trust in them is correct. Privacy experts say calls to remove period tracking or fertility apps are obscuring a bigger issue.
Lia Holland is the campaigns and communications director for Fight for the Future, an advocacy group that focuses on digital rights. They said that if you submit data to a cycle tracking app, you could be out by your phone. The outing could happen because of the game you installed that tracked your location to the abortion clinic.
India McKinney is the director of federal affairs for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Search history, browser history, content of communication, social media, financial transactions, all of this stuff is not necessarily related to period tracker but could be of interest to law enforcement."
There were already cases where pregnant women had their search histories and text messages used against them after their pregnancies ended.
A woman in Mississippi was charged with murder because she had searched for abortion pills online. The charges were dropped after a period of time. An Indiana woman was sentenced to 20 years in prison for feticide after prosecutors used her text messages as evidence that she had an abortion. According to The Cut, prosecutors argued that she had taken abortion-inducing drugs purchased online, which is illegal in the US, but police couldn't find evidence that the drugs were purchased. After spending three years in prison, her conviction was eventually overturned.
People seeking abortions can be tracked online. According to a recent investigation, anti-abortion groups were able to keep tabs on people seeking abortion services despite the fact that they were not allowed to collect such data. The data collected by the groups was shared with anti-abortion marketing firms, which could allow them to target ads to women who support abortion. The same data could be turned over to law enforcement, according to experts.
Someone could be at risk if they visit a physical location. Data brokers sell location data related to abortions. A data broker, SafeGraph, was selling a week's worth of location data for Planned Parenthood and other clinic locations that included "where groups of people visiting the locations came from, how long they stayed there, and where they then went afterwards." There are visits to reproductive health clinics. People have ordinary apps on their phones.
After the report, SafeGraph said it would stop selling data. The apps on your phone still track where you are. There are many companies in the data broker industry.
Most people don't know that the apps on their phones are doing this. A lot of developers who build these apps don't even know that their own apps are endangering abortion patients because they use easy to use preset tools.
Lawmakers were concerned about the collection of location data for people seeking reproductive healthcare. They said that orders demanding data about everyone who was near a particular location at a given time are now common. It is inevitable that right-wing prosecutors will obtain legal warrants to hunt down, prosecute and jail women for obtaining reproductive health care if the court overturns the abortion law, they warned last month. Despite the urgent nature of data collection practices for tech companies, the industry's largest companies have yet to speak.
Concerns about period tracking apps are valid, but they are only part of the problem. Deleting the services from your phone won't be enough to make sure your data isn't used against you. Users aren't entirely helpless despite being badly outmatched by the industry.
The importance of protecting your private messages and browsing history was pointed out by Holland and McKinney Holland says to look for menstrual tracking apps that only store data locally and not in the cloud. McKinney says leaving your phone at home is the safest option if you don't want your phone to track you. If you don't want your phone to track you, leave it at home.
Both Holland and McKinney agree that the onus of privacy shouldn't be on the individual. Privacy legislation needs to be enacted that restricts what kind of data an app can collect. There aren't a lot of restrictions on what companies can do with people's data right now. Legislation to fix a lot of the stuff on the back end and not make it so that I have to do research to figure out what are the best privacy practices that I need to undertake before I deal with a particularly stressed situation in my life is what we need.