EFF Warns Over Health App Data After Roe v Wade Report

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has warned that women may face additional data security risks following the US Supreme Court’s reported plan to repeal the Roe v Wade decision that guarantees legal abortion services throughout the country.

A repeal of the 1973 decision would make terminations illegal in 22 states, exposing those using or providing such services to criminal prosecution.

Individuals, in particular, may face risks due to the large amounts of information collected on them by mobile phone apps, such as menstrual tracking apps.

These apps collect highly personal information on their users who are looking to predict ovulation days or track menopause symptoms.

Prosecution

They have become highly popular, and are said to be used by nearly one-third of women in the US, with the “femtech” market predicted to be worth more than £40 billion worldwide by 2025.

Over the weekend the EFF published an online security guide for those looking to keep themselves “safe while fighting for the right to reproductive healthcare”.

It gives tech safety tips for those “concerned about unwanted data collection while navigating online resources, providing or seeking services, or organising with others”.

EFF senior technologist Cooper Quintin told the Guardian that the data collected by such apps on people’s location and health could now wind up being used “to find and prosecute people who may be seeking these services or who may not even be seeking these services”.

“I’m concerned that all this data that’s already out there that’s already been collected and is just sitting in data silos is going to be used for mass prosecutions, mass arrests and do real significant harm,” he said.

Data collection

He advised app makers to find ways of minimising the amount of data they collect and hold and the length of time they hold that data.

Apps routinely share detailed information on their users with third parties for advertising purposes, and period-tracking products are no different.

A 2020 investigation by US magazine Consumer Reports found that five popular menstrual tracking apps – BabyCenter, Clue, Flo, My Calendar and Ovia – shared a “dizzying” amount of data on users.

Flo, the most popular with more than 150 million users, last year reached a settlement with the FTC over allegations it shared users’ health data with third party analytics and marketing services such as Facebook, which followed a 2019 Wall Street Journal investigation.

The app maker said in a statement that it does not share users’ health data with third parties.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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