Period and Fertility Apps Can Be Weaponized in a Post-Roe World

According to Fox Cahn, apps that collect and store data on their own servers are particularly dangerous, both because the data can be sold and hacked, but also because law enforcement can serve companies with subpoenas for user data. In a recent report, STOP pointed out that some apps let users store data on their phone—a much safer option—but one that still won’t protect them in the face of a search warrant.

But Fox Cahn says that the concern goes far deeper than just fertility apps. “Basically any health data app for pregnant people or potentially pregnant people could be weaponized.”

To understand how, one need only look at the country’s immigration infrastructure, says Paromita Shah, executive director at Just Futures Law. The Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have long used data to surveil and arrest activists and immigrants, she says. “There is no consumer privacy law that I have seen that really can impact the police,” says Shah. “And they’re buying this data to get around their obligations to follow the Constitution.”

Even if users decide to delete period-tracking apps, their data may have already been collected. For those who want to keep using them, McGraw says “it takes a lot of effort” to ensure data isn’t being shared. None of the companies responded to questions about their usership figures.

“Mostly what you can do, but which people rarely do, is pay a bit more attention to the terms of service and the privacy policies of the apps you use,” she says. But removing data that’s already out there would only be possible “if you’ve got a company that’s covered by a state law that gives you a right of deletion.”

Euki, an app released by the international group Women Help Women, anticipated many of these problems. “When somebody creates an app, obviously they want to monetize, they want to pay for it. And the way they recoup their costs and make profits into the future is by marketing the data,” says Susan Yanow, a reproductive health consultant and the US representative for the organization. “We were never looking to make up that cost. The goal was to get it into the hands of as many people as possible, as securely as possible.”

Funding for Euki came instead from a grant obtained by Ibis Reproductive Health, a partner organization of Women Help Women. The app contains information about abortion, contraception, sexually transmitted infections, and miscarriages, stores all data on the user’s device rather than uploading it to a third-party server. It is password protected, and allows users to set up a second password that, when entered, will bring up a second, fake app, keeping even the nature of the app a secret. There is even an option to delete all of the collected data.

In the weeks since the draft decision leaked, Yanow says Women Help Women has seen a massive influx of users to the organization’s website—which she hopes will lead people to the Euki app.

“We truly believe that the person who owns the app is the person who should be deciding what to do about [a missed period or pregnancy], should that happen,” says Yanow.

Update 6/8/22 1:33PM ET: This story has been updated to include comment from Flo and to give the correct name of Women Help Women. 

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