Take care of my data, period

Femtech, technology aimed at supporting female health, has been on the rise in recent years as millions of women turn to technology to gain insight into their bodies.

As the pace of life grows ever quicker, more women enjoy having fast technology at their fingertips – especially when that technology allows them to be able to work in tandem with their bodies, health and wellbeing.

One popular area of Femtech is period tracking apps. There are thousands of these apps, and they are used by millions of women from across the world to monitor their menstrual cycles. The reasons women use a tracking app varies – it could be for anything from being able to quickly see when they’re next due on to a doctor asking them to keep a log of their periods.

Before apps, if women wanted to track their cycles, they would have had to write their symptoms down or remember them.

Technology makes tracking easy

Technology makes it easy for women to see common themes within their bodies based on their periods, and the better the app development the more women understand their bodies, and their moods.

Apps are convenient. They prompt the user to add information, so they don’t forget to keep track of their cycles. The details logged are then used to spot patterns based on that specific user.

Apps need information

Apps need information to gather data to give women an overview of their cycles. Women aren’t obliged to provide this information, but the more they do, the more informed they’ll be.

Though women are now more aware of the permissions they are granting an app, it doesn’t always mean they understand those permissions. And it’s via this information that women can unwittingly share their data with third parties who may not have their best interests in mind.

I spoke to one user of the My Calendar app who said she loves the technology, and she finds it useful. However, she was unaware that an American developer produced the app, and where she believed her data to be anonymous – because she didn’t have to provide her name, only her email address – when she re-read the privacy policy, she noticed that her details could be shared to third parties.

Another user of the Samsung Health app said that for a long time she didn’t use it as she was worried about “others having very personal information” about her, but she eventually used it because she wanted to come off contraceptives and ensure that she wouldn’t get pregnant. She said the app has been spot on with her cycle, but that she hoped her data wasn’t being shared because if it was, she would stop using the app.

Personal information

The realisation of the extent of personal information being shared is only just coming to the forefront, but now it is, women are questioning how safe they are, and what is happening to their personal details.

For most women, the kind of information you share with an app would probably be the kind of information you would only share with a doctor or nurse. Not a stranger.

A study conducted by JMIR mHealth (the Journal of Internet Medical Research) found that only 70% of the 23 most popular apps they researched displayed a privacy policy, just 52% requested consent to share women’s data and 13% of the apps collected data before getting consent from the women.

This becomes a wider issue as you realise it isn’t just period tracking apps that can identify you, apps such as menopause and fitness trackers can also build up a good personal profile, all of which can be sold on for marketing, research and profiteering purposes.

More shockingly, certain apps have permission to read, modify or delete a person’s personal data.

The information gathered by these apps is incredibly sensitive, and woman have a right to know how it’s stored and more importantly, how it is shared.

Whilst the rise of Femtech is a great advancement to women, enabling them to not only understand their bodies, but to also know they can plot and plan their lives around their health and wellbeing, the information given over by these women should not be used as a commodity. The protection of women’s data should be paramount – otherwise women will lose trust in the technology they’ve come to love.