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The role of period tracking apps under the USA’s new abortion laws


Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq


This article is part of The Broad's short series in response to the US Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v Wade. For more articles like this, search the hashtag 'Roe v Wade' on our website.



Period tracking apps (like Clue, Flo and Eve) collect data from users in order to predict the date of their next period and their fertility window, helping either with conception or avoidance of pregnancy. These apps intake a massive amount of data from the user (not all of it relevant to their period), including their last period date, symptoms, pain levels, cramps, and flow. Previously, these apps were efficient for helping women and anyone who menstruates with keeping records of their reproductive health and pregnancies. However, now with the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the criminalisation of abortions in the US, there is increasing fear about how protected this data is, and exactly where it is being stored. Essentially, women and people who menstruate may be threatened with having their own personal health data used against them in criminal cases to prove the illegal ending of a pregnancy under the new laws.


Many period tracking apps have a pregnancy feature, allowing the user to track their pregnancy from conception up to six weeks postpartum, and if the pregnancy has ended and when. As well as collecting pregnancy and period data, apps can collect less relevant information, like your location and contact information — essentially what law enforcement agencies would need to track someone they believe has unlawfully had an abortion. The concern here is that this data can be sold on to third parties, such as Facebook or Google, demonstrating that the user’s personal health data is not properly protected by the apps. Many apps have a social login option, where the user can login using Facebook. However, when a user does this, Facebook is automatically given some of the data entered by the user from the period tracking app. This neglect of users data was proved by the UK based app Flo Health, which the Federal Trade Commission of the United States reported on in 2021. Lesley Fair, Senior Attorney of the FTC, explained that “Flo… used them to convey users’ health information to third parties. For example, if an app user entered pregnancy-related information, Flo Health disclosed App Events with the word “pregnancy” in the title to the analytics divisions of those third parties”. Therefore, period tracking apps do not take seriously the protection of their users personal health data. Now, with the overturning of Roe v Wade, this is a serious problem for women and people who menstruate who may seek abortions under the new law. There is also a fear that American government agencies could potentially subpoena tech companies to hand over this data, in order to prove the ending of a pregnancy in criminal cases.


But what can be done in order to protect users' data and information? This is a complicated question, and one which involves more than just deleting an app. Although these apps have been problematic for data protection in the past they have also contributed massively to the advancement in awareness of and concern for women’s healthcare. Suggesting women and anyone who menstruates across the US delete these apps is a sensible option and argument. However, it also feels as though we are restricting even more access to safe and regulated gynaecological health resources. For example, Clue has an article feature in the app where users can read information about gynaecological health, birth control and fertility issues, amongst others. Often written by authors with PhDs and expertise in women’s health and gynaecology and obstetrics, these articles can be incredibly useful to women or anyone who is struggling with their reproductive or gynaecological health. Encouraging the deletion of these apps feels like a step-backwards in the advancement of women’s health and ‘Femtech’, a term coined by a co-founder of Clue, Ida Tin, as “the group of technologies that are designed to support and advance women’s healthcare”. What is most frustrating is that this is a result of the Supreme Court’s idea to ‘protect life’, when really they are threatening the lives of every woman and person who menstruates in the United States, as well as reversing advancements we have seen in women’s healthcare.


In order to offset this complete reversion, there may be certain ways of continuing to use these apps and have access to medically professional support and resources online. Apps like Clue, which are based in Europe, have to abide by certain data privacy laws. In an Instagram post after the overturning of Roe v Wade, Clue stated “As a European company, Clue is obligated under the world’s strictest data privacy law, the European GDPR, to apply special protections to such data”. They also stated “we understand that many of you are worried that your tracked data could be used against you by US prosecutors… your health data, particularly any data you track in Clue about pregnancies, pregnancy loss or abortion, is kept private and safe”. A reassuring statement, Clue may be a good option for a period tracking app. However, Flo is also a “European company” (based in the UK), and with their data release to third parties in 2016, this demonstrates there is no absolute guarantee user’s data is protected, (although Flo has since settled that they will not share user data with any third parties, and must ask third parties to delete any data collected from its users). Another way of keeping health data safe is to avoid logging into apps using the social login option, like through Facebook which will then be allowed to collect your data despite any regulations placed on data protection by the app itself. Avoiding apps that ask for irrelevant information to your period or pregnancy (like your location) can also add an extra level of protection and safety.


The overturning of Roe v. Wade is a clear step backwards, and now not only threatens the lives of women, girls and people who menstruate across the United States, but could set into motion a step backwards in the advancement we have seen in women’s healthcare and Femtech. In criminalising access to safe abortions, the Supreme Court has triggered a restriction of access to other women’s health resources, perfectly evidenced with the widespread fear around data protection in period tracking and women’s health apps. What was once a way of gaining access to women’s health resources and support is now yet another threat to the rights and safety of women and girls across the United States.


On Abortion Access in Scotland - Statement by Anna Cowan, campaigner for Back off Scotland


The verdict of Roe v Wade represents a huge step back in the progress we have made for equal reproductive rights. Allowing abortion to be banned does not ban abortions - it bans safe abortions.


Although decisions like this may seem incredibly far away, in Scotland we are facing a fight against abortion access in the form of anti-choice protests outside of clinics which provide abortions. These protestors come from Texas-funded organised 40 Days for Life, who are an insidious and restrictive religious group who's sole purpose is to ban abortion.


In Scotland we must show our solidarity with our American sisters and siblings, while also being vigilant and fighting against anti-choice movements. If you want to be apart of the cause to establish buffer zones around abortion clinics, please fill out the Scottish Government consultation to enact this into law at bufferzones.scot

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