If you use an app to track your cycle, it could be tracking more than you think.
The information that we give to menstruation apps (smartphone programs that tell you when to expect that time of the month) is some of our most intimate. Still, period trackers are among the most popular health apps, with over 200 available in the App Store. So, how are we supposed to know which one is safest - which won’t sell our data to ad companies, leak it, or share it with laboratories?
According to a recent report from UK advocacy group Privacy International, some period tracker apps are sharing your private health information with third-party services, including Facebook.
Obtained by Buzzfeed, the report outlines how apps like Maya and MIA Fem have shared sensitive information including monthly period cycles, sexual activity and contraception use via Facebook's Software Development Kit (SDK), which helps app developers incorporate particular features and collect user data so Facebook can show them targeted ads.
“When Maya asks you to enter how you feel and offers suggestions of symptoms you might have – suggestions like blood pressure, swelling or acne – one would hope this data would be treated with extra care,” the report explains. “But no, that information is shared with Facebook.”
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What’s even more frightening, Maya reportedly shares user data with Facebook before you even agree to its privacy policies. It also shares data people enter on their mood swings, which advertisers, “are often interested in... because it helps them strategically target ads... at times they might be more likely to buy. And women who are pregnant or seeking to become pregnant are likely to change their shopping habits.” So that explains why I'm served Wish adds around my time of the month...
The app's parent company Plackal Tech told Buzzfeed in an email that it was largely for – you guessed it – revenue purposes.
“The Ad SDK helps us earn revenue by displaying ads that our users can opt-out of by subscribing to Maya's premium subscription.”
Similarly, MIA Fem reportedly asks users about their daily habits like smoking, coffee consumption and tampon use and then suggests articles to read based on those habits which are also shared with Facebook to help them target you with ads.
Even if you don’t use either of those particular apps, however, the report certainly rings alarm bells about how much we knowingly consent to our personal information being shared with third parties like Facebook, especially when most apps have lengthy terms of service that few of us ever bother to read.
Bottom line? It's time to at least skim the T&Cs before you disclose that second slice of pizza.
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