Analysis: Nine of 20 popular period tracking apps use data for third party ads


Nearly half of period-tracking apps studied used or shared data for third-party advertising, according to an analysis by cybersecurity and VPN company Surfshark. 

The review examined 20 popular apps from the Apple App Store and ranked each app depending on the amount and sensitivity of the information they collect. For instance, an app received one point for data collected that isn’t linked to a user’s identity, like app crash information, and three points for data that could track users across other websites, like user ID. It also added points for collecting data for third-party advertising. 

Nine shared data for advertising, while 10 collected coarse location, which can’t be tracked to an exact address, but can offer more approximate location information. Eight apps collected photo and video library data. 

Overall, the analysis ranked Eve, Glow and Ovia highest in how much potentially sensitive data they collect, while Apple’s Cycle Tracking and the Life app ranked the lowest.

WHY IT MATTERS

The cybersecurity firm said its review suggests much of this data isn’t necessary for the apps to work, as the lowest-ranked apps still function for users. 

“Many users consent to share their personal information without realizing where their data will end up,” Agneska Sablovskaja, data researcher at Surfshark, said in a statement,

“Our study found that 17 out of 20 period-tracker apps collected either one or both health data or sensitive information, which can include information about a female’s reproductive health or pregnancy. Tech companies and apps might share this data with third-party advertisers, data brokers or even government institutions. It is crucial to do research before downloading anything on your phone as it can be more harmful than helpful.”

THE LARGER TREND

Privacy and security concerns about women’s health apps have grown in recent weeks in the wake of a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade. Some security experts have raised concerns data collected in period-tracking apps could potentially be used to penalize anyone considering an abortion

The results from Surfshark’s analysis were in line with a study published earlier this month in JMIR, which reviewed cycle-tracking apps and other women’s health tools. It found 20 of the 23 apps studied shared data with third parties, while only 16 displayed a privacy policy and 12 requested consent from users. Three apps began collecting data before obtaining consent. 


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