Experts fear period tracking apps could lead to abortion prosecutions

·2 min read
Photo credit: juanma hache - Getty Images
Photo credit: juanma hache - Getty Images

Those who live in the American states and other parts of the world where abortion isn't legal (or is likely to be criminalised soon) are being urged to reconsider having period tracking apps on their phone. Experts have raised concerns that the data found within apps that track menstrual cycles, sexual activity and more, along with search engine history, has the potential to become incriminating, should the user later seek an abortion.

Following the Supreme Court's decision to overturn the landmark Roe v Wade ruling last week, which protected all seeking or performing a termination from prosecution, Gina Neff, a professor of technology and society at University of Oxford, tweeted: "Right now, and I mean this instant, delete every digital trace of any menstrual tracking."

Neff later added, "Americans lack fundamental privacy protections. Post-Roe makes that tragically clear. For many women, post-Roe privacy is more urgent. But privacy is even more important for ALL of us now.

"Law enforcement agencies have already targeted Google searches for 'abortion pills', text messages, and DNA databases (23andMe! and Ancestry.com) in prosecuting women for abortions and miscarriages."

Photo credit: Oscar Wong - Getty Images
Photo credit: Oscar Wong - Getty Images

These concerns are something apps such as Natural Cycles are aware of, according to a new BBC report, in which a spokesperson for the app explained although user data is "safe and will be protected" that currently they're working on "creating a completely anonymous experience for users [...] The goal is to make it so that no-one - not even Natural Cycles - can identify the user".

The same concerns relating to Google searches were also raised in an open letter to the online powerhouse earlier this year, signed by politicians such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. In the correspondence, addressed to Sundar Pichai (Google's Chief Executive Officer), the signees wrote: "We are concerned that... Google’s current practice of collecting and retaining extensive records of cell phone location data will allow it to become a tool for far-right extremists looking to crack down on people seeking reproductive health care.

"That’s because Google stores historical location information about hundreds of millions of smartphone users, which it routinely shares with government agencies... Law enforcement officials routinely obtain court orders forcing Google to turn over its customers' location information."

As yet, Google have not publicly responded to the letter, however other big name companies (many within the tech sphere) including Meta, Amazon and Disney have pledged to support and fund employees seeking to end a pregnancy.

The Electronic Foundation Frontier have published advice for anybody seeking out information on abortion (in a place where it is against the law) here.

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