Fertility or menstrual cycle trackers have been used by nearly a third of women in the U.S., according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey. They are part of the burgeoning market for “femtech,” which are technology-based products and services focused on women’s health. The market for all digital tools for women’s health needs—such as apps for personalized nutrition advice, weight-loss coaching, and high-tech breast pumps that record when and how much is pumped—could be worth as much as $50 billion by 2025, according Frost & Sullivan, a research and consulting firm.
Sensitive data collection:
Fertility or menstrual cycle trackers, broadly categorized as reproductive health trackers, can be used for a wide variety of reasons in addition to monitoring menstruation. Professional athletes, such as those on the U.S. women's soccer team and several British Olympic hockey gold medalists, use them to tailor workouts and nutrition plans to their body's cycles. Clue, Ovia, and Flo say that medical researchers use anonymized information from the apps to study women’s health concerns. Some even have features that manufacturers claim will help diagnose medical conditions. Flo and Clue recently introduced tools to assess a user’s risk of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormone disorder that can affect a woman's fertility. Period tracker apps are billed as useful tools for people who are trying to have a baby, want to prevent pregnancy, or need to monitor menstrual-cycle-related health problems such as hormone-triggered migraines.
Personal information at risk:
But to provide these services, the apps collect deeply personal information that can go well beyond the dates of your period. Depending on the app, that can include how often you engage in sexual activity, if you are trying to conceive, and whether you engage in unprotected sex, have experienced a miscarriage, or are approaching menopause.
Data sharing to third parties and marketing:
Consumer Reports’ Digital Lab found in a recent examination of five popular reproductive health tracking apps—BabyCenter, Clue, Flo, My Calendar, and Ovia—that even anonymous users have no guarantee that their information won’t be shared in some way with third parties for marketing and other purposes.
[Excerpts gathered from CR Article: What Your Period Tracker App Knows About You]