Period tracking apps could see their data legally protected

Period tracking apps could see their data legally protected

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The legal risks of prosecutors getting access to data from period tracking apps have been getting increasing attention. The Democratic party now plans to enact legislation to provide legal protection for the privacy of this data.

The news was announced by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who also outlined plans for additional legal protections for women seeking abortions …


Many women choose to use apps to track their menstrual cycle. The data can serve a range of purposes, from estimating ovulation dates to either maximize or minimize the chances of pregnancy, to predicting when hormonal changes may lead to changes in mood.

However, with the Supreme Court having removed the legal right to an abortion, and many states having outlawed the procedure, there are real concerns that app data could be used to prosecute both women who have had abortions – along with medical professionals.

For example, in states that make it a crime to help an abortion-seeker such as Texas and Oklahoma, data from women’s period-tracking or pregnancy apps could end up being subpoenaed as evidence against the person who helped them, said Danielle Citron, a law professor at the University of Virginia and author of the forthcoming book “The Fight for Privacy.” “Let’s say you got your period, stopped your period and then got your period again in a short time,” Citron said. “It’s [potential] evidence of your own criminality, or your doctor’s criminality.”

There have been calls for tech companies to better protect this type of data, and our own suggestion that Apple push even further on privacy – with the vast majority of you agreeing.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has announced that the Democratic party intends to bring forward legislation to protect this data.

This weekend, the American people spoke out in person and in large numbers about their opposition to the Supreme Court’s disrespect for a woman’s freedom over her reproductive health.

Following the release of the draft decision, our pro-choice House Democratic Majority has been hard at work preparing for the possibility of this tragic outcome.  Our Caucus has been exploring avenues to protect the health and freedom of American women.  Among them is legislation that:

  • Protects women’s most intimate and personal data stored in reproductive health apps.  Many fear that this information could be used against women by a sinister prosecutor in a state that criminalizes abortion.
  • Makes clear that Americans have the Constitutional right to travel freely and voluntarily throughout the United States.
  • Once again passes the Women’s Health Protection Act: landmark legislation to enshrine Roe v. Wade into the law of the land.

No details are given about how this would work, but one possibility is that it may be made illegal for any third-party to access this data, even law enforcement.

How you can protect your data

Since iOS 13, Apple’s own Health app has offered cycle tracking. John Gruber pointed to an Apple support document which shows how to ensure this data is fully protected.

By default, iCloud automatically keeps your Health app data, including health records, up to date across your devices. To disable this feature, open iCloud settings and turn off Health. iCloud protects your health records data by encrypting it both in storage and during transmission. If you’re using iOS 12 or later and have turned on two-factor authentication for your Apple ID, health records are encrypted using end-to-end encryption through iCloud. This means only you can access this information, and only on devices where you’re signed in to iCloud. No one else, not even Apple, can access end-to-end encrypted information. 

Note that you still need to check whether you have given any other apps access to your Health data; if so, those could still present a risk.

Photo: Firmbee/Unsplash

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