Many women are reluctant to share the ins and outs of their reproductive and sexual cycles at the best of times; however, new research has revealed that period-tracking apps are sharing highly personal information with Facebook.
Invasion of privacy
UK advocacy group, Privacy International has found that menstruation apps, often used by women who are trying to conceive, are collecting extremely personal details and passing it on. Information such as the timing of women’s periods, their period symptoms, their moods even, their use of contraception and when they last had sex, are being shared, not just with Facebook but other third parties.
According to Privacy International, this sharing of data happens through Facebook’s Software Development Kit (SDK). This enables app developers to include certain features and collect certain data. Plus the information will often be passed through SDK to Facebook.
“Developers can receive analytics that allows them to understand what the audience of their app enjoys and improve their apps over time,” Facebook reported to Privacy International in an email. “Developers may also use Facebook services to monetise their apps through Facebook Audience Network. Subject to that Facebook user’s prior consent, Facebook may also use this data to provide that user with more personalised ads.”
More than menstruation
Maya asks women to enter a great deal of information such as their use of contraception, when they’ve had sex and whether or not it was protected. The app also asks users to share their moods, whether they’re feeling happy excited or anxious. There is also a diary-like section where users can add their own notes.
“When Maya asks you to enter how you feel and offers suggestions of symptoms you might have — suggestions like blood pressure, swelling or acne — one would hope this data would be treated with extra care,” the report said. “But no, that information is shared with Facebook.”
Meanwhile, MIA, the other app mentioned in the report, asks you to share whether you’re using the app to simply track periods or actually trying to conceive. All information that is very personal but used in ways it’s meant to be used.
Why collect this information?
Basically, all these personal details allow advertisers to target you more effectively. According to the report, advertisers are particularly interested in women’s moods because “understanding when a person is in a vulnerable state of mind means you can strategically target them.”
The same goes for woman who are trying to conceive, as with the case using MIA.
“The moment you click on the icon to let the app know you are trying to get pregnant, you are immediately targeted with an ad for a premium version of the app to help you conceive. The information is also shared with Facebook,” says the report
None the wiser
Most women have no idea that their personal details are being shared so readily. Even if there are privacy policies in place, these are often unclear and confusing for users.
“This is the kind of practice that highlights how consent isn’t a sufficient guardrail against privacy violations,” Lindsey Barrett, a staff attorney at Georgetown Law’s Intellectual Property Rights tech clinic told BuzzFeed. “No one reads privacy policies because they encounter too many of them for that to be reasonable, and even if they did, the policies are poorly written or won’t tell them what they need to know.”