Periodic apps are a privacy nightmare – should you use them anyway?

Period tracking apps collect incredibly sensitive data about their users. When you’re telling an app about your period, it’s difficult to know exactly where that data is going. Period tracker apps provide clear health benefits to users so that they can track and anticipate symptoms, and provide support for people trying to get pregnant. They’re very popular too – the Flo Period Tracker app has over 50 million downloads from the Google Play Store. Its next big competitor, Clue, has more than 10 million. It’s a competitive market, and even Apple launched its own period tracker app in 2019. Unfortunately, menstrual apps have a habit of throwing big red flags when it comes to privacy as well. This was revealed last week when the popular period tracking app Flo signed a deal with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) after the FTC alleged it leaked sensitive user information to a third party. Most notably Facebook and Google – a practice revealed in a 2019 Wall Street Journal poll. Stories like Flo make users wonder: the health benefits of using a rule tracker outweigh the risks to privacy? Privacy International released an analysis in December of how five period and fertility monitoring apps (including Flo and Clue) moved their users’ data. Eva Blum-Dumontet, the researcher who led the Privacy International report, said that although she has studied the field for years, she is surprised by the amount of data apps store about their users. This included the content of notes on users’ masturbation habits and how often they use the bathroom.