Period-tracking apps Flo and Clue are trying to reassure their combined 55 million users that personal data stored in both apps is safe following the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the rules. long-standing case Roe v. Wade which guaranteed the legal right to an Abortion.
The real concern is that of the states that choose to ban abortion outright, six have already automatically gone into effect, and another 16 are expected before the end of 2022. (opens in a new tab) – Women’s private cellphone data will be used against them in states seeking to prosecute anyone who has had an abortion or even had a miscarriage.
The day after the decision was made official, Flo revealed on Twitter that she would soon be unveiling an anonymous mode for her users. “You DESERVE the right to protect your data”, Tweeter (opens in a new tab) bed. “We will soon be launching an ‘anonymous mode’ which removes your personal identity from your Flo account, so that no one can identify you.”
No release date for this addition was provided (despite many anxious replies asking for this important detail), but given that the draft opinion on the cancellation of Roe v. Wade leaked in early May, it seems likely this feature has been in the works for at least a month or so.
But Flo has a history when it comes to user privacy. In 2019, the Wall Street Journal (opens in a new tab) revealed that the app shared menstrual cycle data with Facebook and Google. This was settled with the FTC in 2021 (opens in a new tab)and the company claimed to have passed a privacy audit (opens in a new tab) last month as part of the settlement.
For Clue, the company released a statement (opens in a new tab) designed to reassure its users, stating that it operates under Europe’s strict GDPR privacy laws ensuring data is “private and safe”.
“Many of us at Clue understand firsthand what it feels like to fear for our reproductive autonomy,” the statement concluded. “As we navigate this new reality, we promise to face the challenges it brings, to listen, and to do all we can to make every Clue user’s experience as positive and safe as possible. “
But even with those assurances, if you live in a state ruled by anti-choice lawmakers and you feel suspicious, you’re not alone. “If I lived in a state where abortion was actively criminalized, I wouldn’t be using a period tracker – that’s for sure,” University of Edinburgh researcher Andrea Ford told NPR. (opens in a new tab).
Beyond fertility apps
It’s not just fertility apps that could be bolstered by an overzealous use of police warrants. “It is very likely that requests will be made to these technology companies for information relating to search histories, websites visited,” Ford Foundation technology research fellow Cynthia Conti-Cook told Reuters. (opens in a new tab).
It’s in this environment that big tech companies have some serious questions to answer about how they approach new but old laws. And while internal company culture and consumer products are two very different things, there are some early warning signs that Apple and Google – the two companies behind the overwhelming majority of smartphone operating systems – are not comfortable with change.
“This is a profound change for the country that deeply affects many of us, especially women,” Google human resources director Fiona Cicconi wrote in an email to staff members obtained by The Rod. (opens in a new tab). “Everyone will respond in their own way, whether it’s wanting space and time to process, speaking up, volunteering outside of work, not wanting to discuss it at all or something else.”
Reiterating the need to ensure the company makes “reproductive healthcare information accessible through our products” while continuing its “work to protect user privacy,” the email also explains that the company will allow staff members to request “relocation without justification”.
This is in addition to a health plan that supports out-of-state procedures, a company perk that Apple has also enjoyed for more than 10 years.
“As we’ve said before, we support the right of our employees to make their own decisions about their reproductive health,” Apple told CNBC. (opens in a new tab).
“For more than a decade, Apple’s comprehensive benefits have allowed our employees to travel out of state for medical care if it is not available in their home state.”