|Last week, the Supreme Court overturned the federal right to abortion access in the United States, leaving the door open for many states to pass abortion bans. In the hours after the news broke, one of the trending topics on Twitter was "delete your period-tracking apps NOW."|
After the SCOTUS decision, I spent time reading through the privacy policies of some of the most popular menstrual cycle tracking apps and didn't find anything encouraging in the text. Some Democratic lawmakers are worried that prosecutors in anti-abortion states may use subpoenas to demand that the tech companies who make these apps help them identify which users have visited an abortion provider.
At this time, I cannot recommend any private third-party period-tracking apps, but you still have options when it comes to keeping track of your reproductive health digitally.
Why You Should Delete Your Period-Tracking App
Period trackers are helpful because they allow you to keep track of your cycle and determine when your periods and fertile days begin and end. That information is also needed by doctors, as anyone who has ever had an appointment with an obstetrician or gynecologist knows.
Period trackers can pose a danger to people in states with abortion bans because, like many apps, menstrual trackers collect and store user data. That information may be shared with third parties, including law enforcement looking for evidence that someone had an abortion. Even if you haven't had an abortion, a record of a missed period could be seen as evidence of a crime. That's the world we're living in now. Take it seriously.
Protect Your Health Information
I believe you should do everything you can to control who has access to your personal data, whether you have the ability to bear children or not. Read app privacy policies carefully before using them on your devices. That advice is doubly important when it comes to your health data. While the information you share with your doctor or other healthcare provider is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), those rules do not apply to any health-related data you enter into an app. That information can be sold to data brokers, who can then hand it over to anyone.
Trust No One
I advise readers not to divulge any information to a third-party app that they don't want anyone else to access. Data breaches happen constantly, and the health information you thought was secure today could be in the hands of a hacker tomorrow. Keep your health data offline or encrypted to keep it safe.
How to Track Your Period Privately
The three methods listed below aren't as straightforward and easy to use as the popular period-tracking apps, but they're more private.
1. Use the Health app on your iPhone, and disable two settings
Apple has a period-tracking option built into its Health app for mobile devices. You can enter in all kinds of information about your body, as well as log sexual activity, period symptoms, and pregnancy test results.
The data collected is encrypted, and as long as you turn off access to iCloud and opt out of syncing your data with any third-party apps, your information is only stored on your device.
Keep a close eye on your Apple device's sharing settings! If you've previously shared any health data with someone, they still have access to your information until you turn off sharing in the Health app. I know because my husband received alerts on his iPhone about my fertility schedule even after I switched to an offline tracking method.
Apple will turn over data to law enforcement unless you have multi-factor authentication turned on for your Apple ID—so make sure you do it!
Google does not have a privacy-focused health app built into Android.
2. Track dates surreptitiously on your calendar
Entering detailed reproductive health information into the calendar app on your smartphone or computer isn't the most secure option on our list, but it is very easy to obscure the information a little bit. Simply enter an emoji or character on the calendar to designate your cycle's beginning and end dates. There's no need to write out what it means.
Keep your devices close at hand if you use this method and secure them and any logins for digital calendars with multi-factor authentication. Computer and mobile device calendars usually allow for syncing, which means your data could be seen by someone else if they gain physical access to any of your devices.
Of course, tracking your period using a pen and paper calendar is also an option, though it leaves physical evidence of your health data that may be easy for law enforcement to access.
3. Use a spreadsheet
You can store a spreadsheet containing your health data on your device without linking it to the cloud. You can download attractive templates from various sources online, but it's easy to make a simple tracking spreadsheet. Aliza Aufrichtig, a graphics and multimedia editor at The New York Times, wrote this guide for creating a private period tracker using Google Sheets. You can even set up email and calendar integrations, though I recommend against this option since it leaves an online digital trail. Google Sheets stores your data in the cloud, which is not ideal, but you can use the instructions Aufrichtig provides to make a similar offline spreadsheet using Excel.
Keep in mind that any data stored on your phone could be used against you if law enforcement gets their hands on your device. Always lock your phone with some form of multi-factor authentication such as a passcode, in addition to using a fingerprint or Face ID.
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