The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has announced that it will be reviewing period and fertility tracking apps following concerns raised by users about data security. A recent poll commissioned by the ICO revealed that half of women have worries about how their data is being used by these apps. The study also highlighted that transparency and data security were bigger concerns for users than cost and ease of use when selecting an app.
The survey, which included responses from over 1,150 women, found that a third of the participants have used apps to track their periods or fertility. Of those, 59% expressed concerns about the transparency of data usage, while 57% worried about the security of their information. Furthermore, more than half of the app users reported an increase in baby or fertility-related advertisements after signing up, with 17% finding these adverts distressing.
Deputy Commissioner of Regulatory Policy at the ICO, Emily Keaney, noted that the review aims to examine both the positive and negative aspects of how these apps operate. She emphasized that data security is a significant concern for women, given the highly sensitive nature of the information involved. Keaney also stated that the ICO will not hesitate to take regulatory action if necessary to protect the public.
The review will focus on identifying potential harms and negative impacts on users, such as confusing privacy policies that make it difficult for users to understand what they have consented to, unnecessary data collection by apps, and the presence of distressing targeted advertising that users did not sign up for. The ICO is urging users to share their experiences through a survey as part of their call for evidence.
In recent years, privacy campaigners have raised concerns about menstruation apps storing personal data without necessity, including intimate details such as birth control habits. A study conducted by Privacy International in 2020 found that leading menstruation apps held sensitive information about users, including questions about yeast infections and gynecologist visits. Additionally, some apps were found to have shared users’ personal and intimate details on Facebook without their consent.