Activists Warn Against Using Cycle Tracking Apps – SWR Knowledge

As the US Supreme Court works to overturn a landmark decision on abortion rights, it has emerged that smartphone user data can be used to identify women seeking abortion services.

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Many women are now using cycle apps: their period is recorded in a digital calendar and thus can be easily observed over a long period of time. In addition, some applications provide users with tables, statistics, and calculate the start of the next cycle.

Activists in the US are now calling for cycle apps to be removed from mobile phones because the data stored contains information about pregnancy. This could lead to a trial in the future.

Selling sensitive cycle app data is a profitable business

What many women don’t know: Sensitive data from period apps in particular can be turned into money. As early as 2018, analysts told the Guardian that at least $50 billion would be invested in the booming business by 2025.

The fact that cycle data is sold is an open secret, so the cycle app “Flo” – according to information from the New York Times – transmitted intimate data to Facebook and Google from 2016 to 2019. So far, bike trackers have been a lot of fun, especially to advertise.

Cycle tracking apps are useful, but they may collect sensitive user data.

imago pictures

imago photos / tommaso79

The European Union has stricter data protection regulations

Unlike the European Union, unlimited data collection and merging is not prohibited in the USA, nor is it monitored. Many users do not even know that the applications on their mobile phone also collect location data and then sell the data package to third parties.

Technology magazine Motherboard reports that until recently it was possible to purchase data from the Safegraph data broker for smartphone users who visited Planned Parenthood. This non-profit organization advises and performs abortions. Safegraph data shows exactly how long and how often a woman stays in Plannes Parenthood.

Cycle tracking apps are useful, but they may collect sensitive user data.  (Photo: Imago Images, Imago Images / Media Punch)

There have been numerous protests in the United States against the possible tightening of abortion laws.

imago pictures

imago photos / MediaPunch

Internet searches leave traces too

But deleting cycle tracking apps is definitely not enough to cover your tracks when planning a possible illegal abortion in the future. It is actually possible to identify pregnancies just by searching the internet – and then presenting advertisements for children’s clothing to the women concerned before even announcing their pregnancy.

Algorithms help collect sensitive data from cycle tracking apps.  (Photo: Imago Images, Imago / Panther Media / Alla Rudenko)

Algorithms help collect sensitive data from cycle tracking apps.

imago pictures

Imago / Panthermedia / Alla Rudenko

Algorithms make it easier to use data

Anyone willing to pay for this data can be obtained from the advertising industry. From these we can deduce which women are pregnant and with certainty also which are no longer pregnant. Of course, this algorithm, which combines location data, search terms and past behaviour, can also be used to filter out future criminal acts such as abortions.

In the United States, activists have now founded the Digital Defense Fund – an organization that provides information on how to plan an abortion without leaving too many traces on the Internet.

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