Could info from period tracking apps be used against you if abortion is criminalized in Michigan?

Michigan AG warns people to protect personal info following overturn of Roe V Wade

DETROIT, MI - JUNE 24: Abortion rights demonstrators march through the streets to protest the Supreme Court's decision in the Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health case on June 24, 2022 in Detroit, Michigan. The Court's decision in the Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health case overturns the landmark 50-year-old Roe v Wade case, removing a federal right to an abortion. (Photo by Emily Elconin/Getty Images) (Emily Elconin/Getty Images)

There are many people on social media warning others to stop using period tracking apps on their smartphones to protect their information following the overturn of Roe V. Wade.

But how much of a concern is that data, really? Enough of a concern that Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is warning residents to take steps to ensure their information is protected.

She is raising her own concerns about companies that have information on people’s fertility and menstrual cycles.

Many people use apps to track their menstrual cycles and that data can reveal information regarding periods, ovulation, and pregnancy. Officials said there is legal concern that the information could become evidence if abortion is criminalized.

“There are a lot of unknowns as we face a post-Roe era, but one thing that remains certain is that consumers can protect themselves and their private information,” Nessel said. “I implore Michigan residents to read the fine print in the user agreements for phone applications and programs because their registration often gives companies the right to sell personal information to other companies. Be aware that your information may be sold to entities for other uses.”

In 2019, it was revealed that a period tracking app was sharing data on some users’ family planning with their employers. In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission settled with a period tracking app after the company promised to keep the data price and then shared it the data with Facebook and Google.

A recent investigation by Consumer Reports found issues in the way five popular period-tracking applications handle user data, including sending it to third parties for targeted advertising.

What the FTC says to do

FTC shared the following tips on how to protect your personal data.

  • Compare options on privacy. When considering a health app, ask some key questions:
    • Why does the app collect information?
    • How does the app share that information – and with whom
    • Then choose the app with the level of privacy preferred.
  • Take care of personal information.
    • Do app settings let the user control the health information the app collects and shares?
      Is the app up to date?
  • Know the risks.
    • Are the app’s services worth risking personal information getting into the wrong hands
  • Report concerns. Do you think a health app shared personal information without permission?

The Department of Health and Human Services has more information available on how to protect your privacy and security of your health information when using your cell phone. Click here.

Currently, Michigan providers cannot be prosecuted for providing abortion care due to an injunction issued by the Court of Claims last month.

Read: Michigan AG: Abortion care ‘cannot be prosecuted’ while injunction in place

About the Author:

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.