Since the Supreme Court upheld the Roe v. Wade voted and states have taken action to limit or ban abortion, some women have refused to use apps that track their fertility and menstrual cycle over concerns that their data could be used against them.
In June, Rep. Sarah Jacobs, D-Calif., and Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, introduced a bill called the My Body, My Data Act aimed at reducing the protect women’s information.
“Nobody’s reproductive information should be used against them,” Jacobs said.
The “My Body, My Data” law would restrict how personal reproductive health information is collected and shared. The bill aims to protect data from period-tracking apps, which the federal health care law known as HIPPA does not currently protect.
“Congress needs to step up and provide real protections for people seeking reproductive health care, and many people are seeking that care online,” Wyden said in a statement. “It’s just common sense that data brokers, tech companies, and advertisers shouldn’t be able to put personal, sensitive information on the public auction block for anyone with a credit card.”
More women have been deleting their cycle-tracking apps in recent months over concerns that missed periods and other health data could be used as possible evidence in court cases.
New York’s Jade Lewis says she deleted her tracking app after the leaked draft opinion in May showing the Supreme Court would overturn the constitutional right to abortion.
“One of the first tweets I read was from a woman who said if you have any of these period tracking apps, you should seriously delete them,” Lewis said.
Lewis said the tweet suggested women should write their menstrual dates in a book because “information these companies have, they technically have,” and she feared courts could use the information against her.
She used an app called Flow Period and an ovulation tracker. Despite living in a state where abortions are unlikely to be banned, she decided using the app was too much of a risk.
“The apps are so helpful in so many ways [and] Unfortunately, it’s gotten to a point where it could be weaponized against the people who want and need to use it,” Lewis told Spectrum News.
Rep. Jacobs says it’s a topic that’s also at home for her, which is why she penned The My Body, My Data Act.
“I’m a young woman and like many people across the country, I use a period tracking app,” Jacobs said.
The congresswoman also shared that she was “frozen” last year [her] Eggs” and finds these tracking apps “very helpful” for women who have “freezing” issues [their] eggs and fertility [issues].”
The bill will require companies to share privacy policies about how data is collected and protected.
“It’s still the Wild West out there. When it comes to cybersecurity and privacy in the United States,” Lance Hoffman, founder of the Cybersecurity and Private Institute at George Washington University, told Spectrum News.
Hoffman added that the United States is a country that does not have an omnibus privacy law that recognizes the intent of data processors at a national level, “Quite unlike some other countries, and as a result, states are leading.”
So far, only five states—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Utah, and Virginia—have comprehensive consumer privacy laws. Experts say the biggest misconception is that the health data collected by these apps isn’t protected under HIPAA.
“Most people just download things and download and go, that’s not a good idea. It’s a good idea to download the app, look through the options, and take the time to customize your settings to your liking. If something doesn’t seem right or you’re not happy with it, don’t use this app, look for another app, read the user reviews,” Lance said.
While the future of the bill is unclear, experts say the best line of defense is to read the fine print and know how the app you’re using is protecting your data.