Government officials have sold to advertisers data from apps created to help those menstruating track their cycles, Ms. Magazine reported in January 2020. In 2019, Dr. Randall Williams, an anti-abortion health official in Missouri, admitted to collecting data from these apps and to tracking women’s visits to Planned Parenthood for abortions. While the names of the women whose information was collected were not used in the report, their personal information and statistics were.
According to an October 2019 article in the Kansas City Star by Crystal Thomas, “Williams testified that the investigation of Planned Parenthood began after state inspectors found evidence of a failed abortion that didn’t have a corresponding complication report logged with the state.”
As Carrie Baker reported for Ms. Magazine, the information gathered from these apps could well be used to restrict reproductive rights. In the article, Baker noted that, under the Trump administration, state and federal government officials were tracking the menstrual cycles of young migrant girls while they were in custody. The ultimate goal of the data gathering by the state of Missouri is for Williams and other ant-abortion officials to be able to shut down the state’s last remaining abortion clinic. They kept track of information such as dates of menstrual cycles, medical identification numbers, and dates of medical procedures including abortions.
Knowing when a period will start, what symptoms you will have before and after, when ovulation will occur, etc. are all important things to keep track of for those who menstruate. There are a lot of different ways to do this and many women choose apps to help keep track of their menstrual cycles. Women input personal information in these apps with an expectation of confidentiality. The use of this data, by the government or private companies, without women’s consent is a total invasion of privacy.
In order to make women feel safe about logging their period cycles on their phones or laptops, Susan Yanow and Women Help Women created the Euki app (named after the wellness plant, eucalyptus). Women Help Women is a non-profit that works internationally to advocate for reproductive health. Their app promises to be safe, secure, and free to use.
Coverage of this story was provided by independent news sources. Only one major news outlet, the Washington Post, has reported about the way period-tracking apps share data. However, the Post’s coverage failed to address the use of data from these apps by anti-abortion government officials.
Carrie Baker, “We Heart: The Period Tracking App Resisting Anti-Abortion Government Surveillance,” Ms. Magazine, January 27, 2020, https://msmagazine.com/2020/01/27/we-heart-the-period-tracking-app-resisting-anti-abortion-government-surveillance/.
Rainesford Stauffer “The Government Is Using Women’s Period Information Against Us,” InStyle, October 30, 2019, https://www.instyle.com/news/government-tracking-period-information.
Crystal Thomas, “Missouri Health Director Kept Spreadsheet of Planned Parenthood Patients’ Periods,” Kansas City Star, October 29, 2019, https://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article236773058.html.
Student Researcher: Madeleine O’Connell (North Central College)
Faculty Evaluator: Professor Steve Macek (North Central College)