Roe V Wade: Should I Delete My Period Tracking App?

In light of Roe V. Wade overturning - are period tracking apps a cause for concern?

woman on phone

by Aaliyah Harry |

Period tracking apps are used by millions of people to help record the start of symptoms, track ovulation cycles, and plan for pregnancy. From Flo to Stardust, these apps have become a convenient way to track periods digitally. Flo claims that every tenth woman in the world between the ages 15 to 49 manages their cycle using the app – over 100 million people – while Clue claims it has 12 million monthly users. The con: users provide personal information to an app that may not be keeping their data private.

These concerns have only intensified now due to a landmark ruling where the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to abortion in the US. What quickly arose was panic from women regarding the use of their data. A call to action online began: delete your period tracking apps and wipe the data.

In a Twitter post that has since gone viral, US author Jessica Khoury wrote, 'Delete your period tracking apps today.' The six-word tweet has resonated with hundreds of thousands of people - with more than 3,000 commenting underneath, expressing their shock at the potential risks.

When you log your period in an app, it's hard to know exactly where that data is going. Unfortunately, some menstruation apps also have a track record of privacy red flags. This came to light in January 2021, when Flo reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC claimed the company shared personal user data with third parties including Facebook and Google. It was later found that the app informed Facebook when a user was having their period and even if they were planning to get pregnant. This scandal was broken by a Wall Street Journal investigation in 2019.

'Apps that collect, use, and share sensitive health information can provide valuable services, but consumers need to be able to trust these apps,' said Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection in the settlement report. 'We are looking closely at whether developers of health apps are keeping their promises and handling sensitive health information responsibly.'

While Flo did not admit any wrongdoing within the settlement, and insisted to NPR that it does not share health data with any third party, this investigation has created doubts surrounding the app's privacy practices. In light of the overturning of Roe v Wade, many now question whether the company would release data under the pressure of a criminal investigation. In response to the Supreme Court's decision, Flo recently released a statement announcing an upcoming 'anonymous mode' that removes personal identity from users' data is launching soon.' So far, there has been no set release date announced.

However, users have pointed out a remaining clause entitled ‘Legal Obligation’ on Flo’s website. It still states, ‘We may be obligated to process some of your Personal Data to comply with applicable laws and regulations.' In regards to this revelation, period app users are calling for people to switch to the app Clue, a Berlin-based period-tracking company.

According to Clue's response to Roe v Wade, any period health data it receives is very much secure because the company is based in Berlin and therefore apply special protections due to European data privacy law. Clue stated, 'It is important to understand that European law protects our community's sensitive health data,' Clue said in a statement. They also referenced the General Data Protection RegulationEU's data privacy law. 'Our business model is direct to consumer subscriptions — our users are our customers, nobody else is,' the company said.

Clue promises its business model does not rely on selling data to third parties and that any data collected is de-identified and encrypted. Flo is also headquartered here in the UK where the same laws apply, yet it still found itself in hot water.

Period tracker, Stardust, meanwhile said, '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.' It continued, '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.'

So, should I delete my period-tracking app?

A Business Insider report based on the charity Privacy International's findings revealed that the likelihood of data collected by period-tracking apps being shared with law enforcement is 'unlikely but not impossible' - according to its tech policy researcher. According to the expert, 'Those who find such apps genuinely useful should not feel compelled to delete them now.' However, it did point out that you should research the potential risks of each app beforehand. If you need to use a period tracker app, make sure it’s one that doesn’t use a server or third-party tracking. A clear theme is the importance of looking at all the clauses and conditions each app has. It is smart with any app or website where you must share data, that you are aware of any potential risks. If there is still any remaining doubt, they have suggested another more secure, albeit old-fashioned way: tracking your cycle on paper.

How do I delete my period tracking app data?

Just deleting the app is not enough to delete your personal information. You must ensure the data within your account is also wiped. Here is how to do so on each popular period-tracking app:

For Flo: Email support@flo.health to request to delete your data.

For Clue: Go to Support in your app, tap 'account & data,' and follow the steps listed in 'How can I delete my account?'

For Period Calendar Period Tracker: You can request deletion in the account settings section. And if you believe your data is being misused, you can contact abishkking@gmail.com, according to the developer’s privacy policy.

For Stardust: Email atsupport@stardust.gg to request that your personal information be deleted.

For MeetYou: You can click your personal portrait and submit your request to cancel your account by selecting 'Cancellation Account,' according to its privacy policy.

For Fertility Friend: Click the menu icon and select 'charts management/permanently delete a chart'.

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