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What not to expect when you're expecting: Fertility apps may be selling intimate health secrets

Majority aren't GDPR compliant and Google Play categorises them badly, leading to lax practices

Hundreds of millions of women turn to fertility apps to conceive or prevent pregnancy, and according to a new study those apps may leak very personal information including miscarriages, abortions, sexual history, potential infertility and pregnancy.

The study considered privacy notices and tracking practices of 30 free, popular, fertility apps available on the Google Play Store. The apps collected information such as temperature, mood, sexual activity, climax, and medical records.

The pair found that most of the apps were not GDPR compliant. Furthermore, the sheer act of installing and opening them activated an average 3.8 trackers, many without users granting permission.

The apps were also largely categorized under “Health and Fitness,” but the researchers feel the information they gather means they should be considered as medical apps.

The study authors, Umea University’s Dr Teresa Almeida in Sweden, and the University of Newcastle’s Dr Maryam Mehrnezhad in the UK, said this miscategorization means the apps can fly under the radar when it comes to data mismanagement and remove barriers to sales of the unauthorized data.

Dr Almeida said in a press release:

Data are kept in such a vulnerable condition, one in which a default setting allows not only for monetizing data but also to sustain systems of interpersonal violence or harm, such as in cases of pregnancy loss or abortion, and demands a more careful approach to how technology is designed and developed.

The study results are scheduled for presentation at CHI 2021 Conference from May 8-13. ®

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