Period tracking apps pose privacy concerns


Health data inputted into period tracking apps may be stored in a cloud server and shared with third parties. Graphic by Carly Erlich

To ensure her private information was kept safe, senior Zoe Wang created a period tracking template using the website Notion.

Wang created her template after the overturning of Roe v. Wade because there was controversy over what popular period tracking apps were doing with users’ health data, she said.

Wang was cautious about using period tracking apps because she heard the apps could potentially sell data to third parties or government agencies, and that the data could potentially be used against people who are vulnerable and potentially seeking an abortion in states where it is illegal, she said.

Data collected by period tracking apps is not governed by federal privacy laws, such as HIPAA, that create regulations about health information because those laws only apply to health care providers, said Rebecca Herold, CEO of Privacy & SecurityBrainiacs.

“There’s no real regulations or laws that prohibit how all of that data can be shared that’s being collected, and the problem with those apps is that data is accessible by a very wide range of others, third parties and so on,” Herold said.

Data collected from period tracking apps may be stored in a cloud server, allowing the information to be accessible by those who are managing that cloud server and all the third parties they work with, Herold said.

According to Leah Fowler, research director in the Health Law & Policy Institute at the University of Houston Law Center, many period tracking apps collect health data to help give users useful predictions and information, such as when their period might start or when they might expect certain symptoms.

“The data in your period tracker could potentially speak to whether or not you knew or should have known you were pregnant,” Fowler said.

According to Herold, using pseudonyms or different email addresses for apps that store data in the cloud can alleviate concerns of data being shared because this practice makes users less identifiable.

Representatives from period tracking apps Flo and Clue did not respond to repeated requests for interviews.

While creating her period tracking template, Wang modeled it after popular period tracking apps to allow people to track their menstrual cycle while also having control over where their data is being stored, she said.

“It’s more of an option for people to use so that they don’t put their health data at risk while making [a period tracker] accessible online,” Wang said.