Women’s health apps: be careful what happens to your personal data

Women’s health apps: be careful what happens to your personal data
Women’s health apps: be careful what happens to your personal data

This is a warning addressed by British researchers during an international conference on human-machine interactions. Researchers from King’s College London and University College London have reported the results of their new study, investigating protection of personal data apps designed to monitor women’s health.

They believe that, due to their poor practices, menstrual cycle tracking applications on smartphones such as Clue, Flo or My Cycle Period, expose users to “unnecessary privacy and security riskse”.

Concretely, the study found that in many cases, user data could be subject to access by law enforcement or security authorities. We quickly see where the problem could be, almost two years after the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the ruling Roe v. Wadewhich since 1973 has granted American women the right to have an abortion in all American states.

The research team reports that, of the 20 apps analyzed, only one explicitly addressed the sensitivity of menstrual data to law enforcement in its privacy policies, and worked to protect users from legal threats. Where other apps required users to indicate whether they had ever had a miscarriage or abortion. There deletion of data seizures were also very laborious if not impossible.

The fear of leaks of more than sensitive data

This combination of poor data management practices could pose serious risks to the physical safety of users in countries where abortion is a criminal offense”, warn the researchers, in a press release (Source 1).

The consequences of a sensitive data leak like this could result in usurveillance and discrimination in the workplace, discrimination in health insurance, domestic violence and criminal blackmail; so many risks that overlap with forms of sexist oppressionespecially in countries like the United States where abortion is illegal in 14 states”, warned Dr Ruba Abu-Salma, of King’s College London.

The researchers therefore point out that the health data entered by users of these menstrual tracking applications are not not trivial data, but very sensitive data to be considered and protected as such. They therefore call on the developers of these applications to review their copies, while providing them with resources to better protect the personal data of users of these applications.

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