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Should you delete period-tracking apps?

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Posted at 5:45 PM, Jun 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-28 18:19:16-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Forget pen and paper. In the digital age, many women have turned to apps on their smartphones to track their periods. But some are second-guessing those apps now that abortion is illegal in states like Kentucky.

“It’s just a scary time to be a woman,” said Kelly Bishop. She deleted an app that tracks her period this week over fears her personal health data could be used in ways she doesn’t want.

“Every tool you use to be responsible for your reproductive health could now be used to surveillance against you,” she said.

Bishop is not the only one with concerns that information about her period could be subpoenaed or sold to a third party. Post Roe v. Wade, a barrage of social media users advised women to delete apps that track their cycles, especially if they live in states where abortion is now outlawed.

LEX 18 took those concerns to a constitutional law professor at the University of Kentucky.

“You’re right to be mindful of your privacy,” said Paul Salamanca. “But the threats to your privacy, I would say, are more from the private sector.”

Salamanca is referring to companies that buy data from apps and use it for marketing purposes. He told LEX 18 that the Fourth Amendment protects users of period-tracking apps from the government. He cites Carpenter v. United States when the Supreme Court ruled the government couldn’t obtain cell phone location records without a warrant.

“The Fourth Amendment protects you from the government against the government obtaining that data,” Salamanca explained. “It doesn't mean they couldn't obtain it, but they'd have to have probable cause and go through the process of getting a warrant.”

According to Salamanca, it’s not likely the government would access data about someone’s menstrual cycle through an app to prove they had an abortion and prosecute them.

“There’s a standard that’s built into the constitution,” he said. “And it doesn’t just protect women using apps. It protects all of us.”

Still, companies like Flo are addressing users’ concerns.

The app is adding Anonymous Mode, which removes personal identity from an account. The company has faced criticism before for sharing data with third-party analytics and marketing services. Flo settled with the FTC in 2021 over improper data disclosure.

But despite changes in apps, Bishop doesn’t feel any comfort and says she won’t be downloading these types of apps anymore.