Big Data, Privacy, and Women’s Healthcare Tracking Apps

For just about everything you want to do, learn, or track; there’s an app. This includes apps for women’s health such as period tracking apps and even Apple’s health monitor stored on every iPhone. The theory behind it is sound. Women can track their cycles, consider family planning, determine the best time for a holiday, and catch any health issues that may arise. But how much information do the apps capture and how much of it, if any, is available to third parties, including law enforcement?

Should You Delete Your Health Apps to Protect Your Private Data?

Women began deleting their health-tracking apps a few years before this year’s overturning of Roe v Wade, but now even more consumers are deleting their health-tracking apps over concerns their information could be sold or given to third parties who would have no qualms about turning it over to the police.

Consumers are savvier than ever before about who has access to their Data. Who buys it? Who sells it, and what it’s used for whether by the app itself or if their information is sold to third parties for marketing purposes. And now, perhaps to law enforcement, should it look as if someone might be trying to or have had an abortion? Messaging from fertility and menstrual cycle apps sought to reassure their users of their Data Privacy, but in a study by Mozilla, not all apps did as stand-up a job as they could have done offering vague privacy policies about what they collected, stored, and sold.

Though privacy policies could be more detailed and definitive, it’s interesting to note that most information turned over to the police isn’t from an app at all. For the most part, people turn in other people, as the legal advocacy group If/When/How found not one example of the police arresting someone with information gathered from a period tracking app. Some healthcare apps, like the one found on your Apple iPhone, store your information directly on the device. So, in making the decision of whether or not to delete your period tracking app, ask yourself: did it come with your phone, or did you download it later?

How Employers Can Help Protect Health Data for their Employees

If you’re an employer and wondering how to navigate such sensitive topics in your healthcare benefit offerings, below are a few questions you may want to consider if your benefits are offered through a third-party provider.

  • How will your employees’ health information be stored?
  • Will it be direct to their device or an encrypted file?
  • What is the third-party provider’s Data Privacy Policy when it comes to your employee’s health Data?
  • What security measures are provided to guarantee privacy and protection of their users’ information?
  • Can they show their users’ health information will not be sold for commercial purposes?
  • What will happen to a user’s Data if they leave the company or decide to no longer use the benefit?
  • How and will it be deleted? Is there a ‘grace period’ or will it be deleted automatically?

With the rise of startups in the femtech space, a key component savvy users will want to understand is how much Data is collected, if any, and how it’s used. Privacy laws and policies are often vague when it comes to women’s healthcare Data including map and GPS concerns as well as the information that is entered into the apps themselves.

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