Whether it’s Clue, FitBit or Eve, there has been a surge in popularity for period tracker apps in recent years.
According to researchers at Columbia University, ‘menstruapps’ are now the fourth most popular app category among adults and second most popular among adolescent women in the ‘health apps’ category.
From inputting information about moods, pain, cervical fluid and forms of contraception, the apps can be used to better inform women about their sexual health and indicate potential health issues.
However, many of us won't be considering that the apps also track and store vast amounts of personal information, which have the potential to making companies some serious money.
, a Brazil-based cyber security guide powered by women-led think tank Coding Rights recently delved into what menstruapp users sign up for when they agree to an apps’s terms and conditions. And the results are pretty eye-opening.
Despite there being more than 200 period tracking apps available in app stores, Chupadados focused on several of the most popular trackers — Glow, MyCalendar, and Maya — for its report.
In studying the companies’s privacy policies, Chupadados claims to have found that ‘all of the apps rely on the production and analysis of data for financial sustainability’.
In other words, the apps make money by sharing users' personal information and activity on the apps with other businesses, target users for advertisements and product sales. In addition, users' digital footprints help inform marketing strategies and business models.
‘Every piece of information that we put online becomes something valuable for companies, making our online activities a key component of their economic survival strategies,’ the website explains.
‘Feeding on our data, these tools serve as laboratories for observing physiological and behavioural patterns from period frequency and associated symptoms to users’ buying and Internet navigation habits.’
However, if you thought the app’s main priority was attaining important details such as your name, age and what day of the month your period starts, think again.
‘Monitoring your cycle using a menstruapp means telling the app regularly if you went out, drank, smoked, took medication, got horny, had sex, had an orgasm and in what position, what your poop looked like, if you slept well, if your skin is clear, how you feel, and if your vaginal discharge is green, has a strong odour or looks like cottage cheese,’ Chupadados notes on its website.
To put it simply, these companies are learning some pretty intimate and serious medical details about your bod and you might want to consider whether you want that information to be public. They may even have data on your online browsing habits and your location, reports.
Following the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal - which saw people’s personal data used to influence the 2016 presidential election - the sharing of information could be pretty impactful.
‘The more data collected about us, the more vulnerable we become,’ the site adds. ‘We are exposed not only to ceaseless propaganda, but also to potential leaks of our intimate information.’
However, before you start deleting your beloved period tracking app, it’s important to understand that the levels of invasiveness varies depending on which app you use.
For example, Chupadados found that those who click 'I agree' to the T&Cs of (which boasts approximately three million users) means the company is permitted to share personal information with third parties, embed cookies to learn about users, keeps data after you delete the app, and use information data to inform users about products.
‘This analysis shows that we can work with some of the menstruapps,’ Chupadados notes.
‘We can choose the apps that allow us to use them without creating an account, change the privacy settings on our phone and on the app itself to block access to specific data and, in the case of Clue, can choose to store data only on our phone.’
If anything, this report serves as a timely reminder to read the fine print when considering sharing personal information.