If you are a woman between 15 and 50, equipped with a smartphone and consumer of applications, chances are that you are one of the millions of users of those dedicated to menstrual monitoring.

At a time when the US Supreme Court is considering challenging the right to voluntary termination of pregnancy (abortion) across the United States, this raises important privacy issues.

Even in France and Europe, where health data is considered sensitive, and therefore subject to special protections by the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), these tools are not trivial.

Vision of the cycle, monitoring of fertility or premenstrual syndrome, management of contraception… Whether or not they wish to have a child, users of menstrual monitoring applications see a lot of usefulness in it.

Problem: these technologies are not necessarily as precise as they boast.

Above all, according to the American media Vox, they are more designed for “men, marketers and medical companies” than for end users.

As early as 2014, sociologist Janet Vertesi estimated that the digital data of pregnant women could be worth up to 1.5 dollars compared to 10 cents for an average Internet user.

Strategic data

The reason for this variation is simple: these women are a highly profitable business target, as likely to purchase products for themselves as for the newborn or entire household.

But "beyond advertising, these applications pose real privacy issues," said cybersecurity expert Rayna Stamboliyska.

She also prefers to speak of “protection of intimacy” rather than private life, to emphasize that “we all have something to hide;

what I want to hide from others is simply different from what you or your father wants to keep to himself.

The same type of personal information will not have the same value from one person to another.

»

In the United States, for example, the Ovia application has put the health data collected from its users at the service of their employers.

The idea was to help them estimate when an employee plans to return to work after a pregnancy.

On paper, this is not necessarily negative, but the risks of abuse are numerous – in France, such use would also be unthinkable since it would directly contravene the secrecy surrounding medical leave.

Many other customers would be likely to be interested in data from menstrual apps, Rayna Stamboliyska nevertheless points out: "Insurers, the bank that provided you with credit..." Of course, in Europe, the GDPR requires clear and accessible so that the user knows what is done with his data,

“but in practice, this obligation is not respected.

Users rarely have this information, which prevents them from having a real mastery of the technologies they use on a daily basis.

»

Intimate monitoring

The NGO Privacy International is monitoring the subject closely: in 2018, it showed that 61% of the 36 applications tested – including the German Clue or Period Tracker from Simple Design Ltd, installed in the Virgin Islands – automatically sent data to Facebook.

In 2020, it was the turn of American and Norwegian consumer protection associations to publish their reports, each noting undue circulation of personal data from menstrual tracking applications.

In early 2021, the Federal Trade Commission again condemned the American application Flo, used by more than 100 million people worldwide, for having shared data with Facebook without their consent.

In a context of fragility of the right to abortion, this creates very specific problems.

Recovering the equivalent of a week's worth of geolocation data from people who have visited a Family Planning center, for example, costs only $160 from brokers like SafeGraph or Placer.

HAVE.

"If you are part of a group determined to deprive women of their right to control their bodies, comments Rayna Stamboliyska, it becomes very easy to target them with political messages right when they go to a center of abortion.

Not to mention the menstrual tracking applications directly funded by this type of group and on which information is disseminated pushing to avoid the most effective contraception - this is the case of FEMM, revealed the Guardian in 2019. 

State pressure, domestic violence

If, as in Poland, abortion is illegal, it is not even impossible to envisage that the data collected by menstruation tracking applications could be turned against those who would have registered a suspension of their cycle for a few weeks there. .

In the United States, there is at least one case of the use of digital data to sentence a woman to prison: in Mississippi, Latice Fisher was thus accused of the murder of her stillborn child on faith, among other things, of their internet search history.

Without even talking about judicial use, applications for tracking menstruation can, like many other technologies, be misused in cases of domestic violence.

“Imagine being pregnant by a man who has cookies on your phone, monitoring your browsing and whereabouts, and you don't want to keep the child.

What are you doing ?

asks Rayna Stamboliyska.

For women in a precarious emotional or even economic situation, the invasion of online privacy complicates everything.

"They find themselves having to imagine solutions integrated into their usual routes, a visit to the pharmacy in the middle of their shopping trip, for example, to find out" without arousing suspicion.

“But how to hide a visit to the hospital?

»

Assess the risks to your privacy

Using menstrual tracking apps isn't inherently dangerous – there are even a few privacy-conscious alternatives, like Drip or Euki.

For Rayna Stamboliyska, the challenge is rather “that Internet users and manufacturers have the reflex to ask themselves what risks this type of tool poses – like any other digital technology for that matter – when they adopt it. or create it”.

That the owner of the smartphone wonders what the risks are before installing an application, "a bit like we are already used to estimating the risks of consuming such a product if the expiry date has passed, or of crossing the road when we are not at the zebra crossing.

And if Roe vs.

Wade is effectively canceled in the United States,

Movie theater

From "Dirty Dancing" to "L'Événement", the right to abortion is also played out in the cinema

People

Margaret Atwood (“The Scarlet Maid”) compares the end of the right to abortion in the United States to slavery

  • Data

  • Personal data

  • Cybersecurity

  • women's health

  • Abortion

Keywords: