Study Reveals Unease Over Period-Tracking App Privacy in Post-Roe Era

A new study led by Duke University assistant professor of computer science Pardis Emami-Naeini has shed light on American women’s concerns about the privacy of period-tracking apps in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022. The study, which polled 183 women across the United States, found that while many women feel uneasy about how their data are used and shared on these apps, few have taken steps to protect themselves.

The Convenience and Cost of Period-Tracking Apps

Nearly a third of American women use apps to track their menstrual cycles, plan and prepare for symptoms, and identify their most fertile days. However, these apps collect sensitive information beyond just periods, including whether users are trying to have a baby, if they get pregnant or have a miscarriage, and even sexual activity. If combined with location tracking showing what medical facilities users have visited, this data could potentially be used to suggest that someone has had or is considering an abortion.

“This is really a call to action that we need to provide more awareness and education,” said Emami-Naeini, who led the research.

Women’s Concerns and Lack of Action

The study found that a number of common app practices raised red flags for users, with the top concern being who might gain access to their data. Respondents said that sharing information about their periods and pregnancies with government or law enforcement was “unacceptable,” and nearly a third found apps sharing their data with third parties like advertisers and insurance companies worrisome.

Despite these concerns, fewer than 10% of participants took steps to mitigate privacy risks, such as deleting the app or reading the app’s privacy policy, while more than 90% took no precautions at all. Nearly 40% of participants reported feeling uninformed when it came to their apps’ privacy practices.

“The majority of women are concerned but they don’t do anything about it because they don’t have the knowledge. They don’t know what to do,” Emami-Naeini said.

The researchers call for app companies to be more transparent about their practices and plan to look at the privacy implications of integrating AI chatbots like ChatGPT into period trackers and other healthcare apps as a next step.

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.