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Why TikTokers Are Deleting Their Period Tracking Apps Immediately

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woman worried about privacy on period tracking apps

A TikTok urging people to delete period tracking apps off their phones has gone viral.

The original tweet, written by Elizabeth C. McLaughlin, an attorney, author, and women’s activist, is followed by a thread explaining that data collected by period tracking apps is at risk of being sold and utilized to invade your privacy.

Is period tracking app privacy secure?

Any time you download and create an account for an app, you agree to its terms of service and privacy policy. However, a 2019 Pew Research survey found that only 9% of people actually ever read them.

Terms of service statements and privacy policies are known for being excruciatingly long, hard to read, and even harder to actually comprehend. In fact, according to the survey, only 13% of those who read privacy policies understand them. Even so, they’re legal contracts that you agree to whether you ever actually read them or not.

Though the term “privacy policy” sounds like a company’s promise to secure your privacy, many times what’s actually embedded within these policies is all the ways these companies are not only not responsible for the information you provide while using the app but also permitted to share data they collect from you.

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Your private data may be secure from unauthorized hackers, but can still be sold to third parties.

This is where McLaughlin’s warning about period tracking app privacy comes into play.

As leaked documents from the United States Supreme Court’s apparent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade reignite the debate over abortion access, the extremely personal and sensitive data concerning a woman’s menstruation cycle is highly valuable.

“If you think that your data showing when you last menstruated isn't of interest to those who are about to outlaw abortion, whew do I have a wakeup call for YOU,” McLaughlin writes.

In fact, user information such as this has already been sold. A 2021 New York Times report found that between 2016-2019, the women’s health app Flo sent data concerning menstruation cycles to third-party companies such as Facebook and Google.

“Combine that with location tracking information and when you last menstruated and where you are seeking healthcare and you have a target on your back,” she says in another tweet.

McLaughlin points out that it wouldn’t be the first time the U.S. government purchased data from phones. In May 2022, a Vice article revealed that “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) bought access to location data harvested from tens of millions of phones in the United States” during COVID-19 lockdowns to track people’s movements.

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So, should you delete your period tracking apps?

It’s not the period tracking apps themselves that necessarily pose a threat to your privacy, but how the information you share can potentially be used.

According to Vice, “researchers have repeatedly raised concerns with how location data can be deanonymized and used to track specific people.”

The issue with these apps now in the wake of the push to overturn Roe v. Wade is that, should this information be sold, it could be used to identify women considering abortion based on very specific data concerning their period cycles and doctor information.

Time and time again, tech companies have proven that a paycheck is more important to them than their users' safety and privacy, which is why you may want to think twice before handing over such sensitive information.

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Micki Spollen is an editor, writer, and traveler. Follow her on Instagram and keep up with her travels on her website.