It turns out some fertility apps have serious privacy flaws. Here's what you need to know.

Thousands of us use period apps to track our period or pregnancy.

However, a new study has found popular fertility apps have serious privacy flaws when it comes to how they use your personal data. 

The study, published by UNSW, investigated 12 of Australia's most popular fertility apps and found they can have misleading privacy messages, hold your data for up to seven years after you stop using the app, and have inadequate 'de-identification measures', meaning your data could potentially be linked back to you. 

"It's unacceptable that we have all these examples of fertility apps acting in untrustworthy ways with consumers' data," report author and faculty of law senior lecturer, Dr Katharine Kemp, told Mamamia.

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The study also found apps can ask for unnecessary details about you, ranging from your education level, if you struggle to pay your bills or even if you feel safe at home.

"They don’t need those details to help you keep track of your fertility," said Dr Kemp.


"Some of them say they sell 'de-identified' data to other companies, so you hope it doesn’t end up in the hands of a drug company or [an] insurer who can link it back to the individual."

According to Dr Kemp, the most concerning finding was that apps can look "for ways to repurpose your data for profit".

This can include using it for research partnerships, using it for targeted business ad or selling it as de-identified data.

"Some of this could be used to exploit, disadvantage or humiliate the user in future," she said. 

"Even when consumers aren't actively entering data in the apps, most of the companies watch and record what you do and use it for profiling purposes like what articles you read, what groups you join, what ads or links you click. They're not transparent about that."

So, what are the red flags to look out for when using fertility apps? 

If you're looking to download an app to track your period or pregnancy, there's a number of red flags to look out for before you start entering in your details. 

Dr Kemp suggests you should watch out for apps that ask for unnecessary information, have no privacy options or have a confusing privacy policy, which might mention their plans to use your data for 'research'.

You should also be aware that even if an app says they're "going to sell or share anonymised or de-identified data", it doesn't mean "it could never be linked back to you".


"You also can’t believe companies that say they 'never' sell your data. Some of them have been sued for 'accidentally' passing it on to Facebook and Google, and others say in the fine print that they can sell the whole database to another company as a business asset."

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How concerned should you be?

Privacy issues in fertility apps have becoming a growing concern, particularly in the US following the overturning of Roe v Wade.

When the landmark ruling - which recognised a woman's right to an abortion - was overturned last June by the Supreme Court, it wound back women's rights by 50 years and saw advocates push for women to delete their period-tracking apps amid fears their data could be used against them.


Two of the apps included in the study have also faced lawsuits in the United States over their treatment of consumers’ health data. 

However, the apps did have some positives, including that they provided three (albeit hard to find) in-app privacy settings and did not collect information about when users had sex or were on their period.

The report specifically found positives to Glow Inc's fertility apps Glow Fertility, Glow Nurture and Eve by Glow.

When Mamamia reached out to Glow they reassured us they do not sell their user's data. 

"We have always taken seriously issues regarding our users’ health, safety, and privacy. We do not share personal data with anyone and will never sell user's data. It's simply against our core values," Glow said in a statement.

"Even in the case where we have been asked to provide information to law enforcement, we have always examined those requests in extreme detail and take action ONLY when it is protecting our users. We will continue to uncompromisingly protect our users' privacy and personal health information. Period."

What can you do to help protect your privacy when using fertility apps?

In the wake of the study, Dr Kemp is calling for major changes to be made to Australia's privacy laws "to make sure relevant data is covered by the law and to impose stricter obligations like a 'fair and reasonable' test for data practices".

The government is currently seeking submissions on the Privacy Act Review until March 31, and you can have your say here.


In the meantime, for those who use fertility apps, there's a number of things you can do to help protect your privacy, from deleting your data to avoiding data sharing. 

Dr Kemp recommends the following tips: 

1."Don't answer unnecessary questions. Sometimes you need to look for a 'skip' or 'X in the corner to avoid or select 'I don't know'."

2."Don't use your Facebook, Google or Twitter credentials to login because that results in unnecessary data sharing."

3. "If the app has a 'delete data' option in the settings, use that when you stop using the app. Choose the option not to allow tracking for ads if your phone has that option."

4."Check for any privacy choices in the 'settings' and opt out of cookies, SDKs or extra uses of your data. Remember that a lot of these apps record and share what you do in the app and not just what you enter, so bear that in mind when you read articles, join an in-app group, watch videos or 'like' something you’re looking at.

 5. "Have a look at the privacy terms and settings on the 'Natural Cycles' app or the Apple privacy terms for health data, if you want to know what better privacy terms look like. 'Natural Cycles' isn’t perfect but it’s an example of much clearer and more careful privacy terms."

- With AAP.

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia. 

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