Health & Lifestyle

Period and fertility app probe over fears they’re harvesting women’s personal data and targeting them with pregnancy-related ads

Health apps used to track women’s periods and fertility are to be reviewed by the UK’s data watchdog after suggestions some may be harvesting people’s data.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) announced the review after a poll found more than half of women who used such apps noticed a rise in baby or fertility-related adverts after signing up.

Nearly a fifth of women who saw the rise in targeted advertisement described it as ‘distressing’. 

The ICO said its review would focus on potential harm being done by such apps such as developers creating ‘unnecessarily complicated and confusing privacy policies’ to lead people to unknowingly share their sensitive personal data.

The watchdog will also examine if companies are storing unnecessary amounts of data on women and if the people who sign up are being targeted for advertising.

Period and fertility apps will be subject to a review by Britain's data watchdog over fears they could be incorrectly using women's sensitive personal data (stock image)

Period and fertility apps will be subject to a review by Britain’s data watchdog over fears they could be incorrectly using women’s sensitive personal data (stock image) 

Privacy in women’s health apps has come under focus after shocking cases in the US where some companies were found to be selling information to third parties

There are fears similar practices could be happening in the UK with a report last year warning four out of five of the UK’s most popular period tracking apps share personal data with third parties.

Reproductive rights campaigners have also raised alarm that such apps could potentially be used to track abortions in women who submit their data

The ICO commissioned poll of 1,100 women found most valued how their data was used, and how securely that data was kept, more than cost and ease of use when it came to choosing an app.

Emily Keaney, deputy commissioner of regulatory policy at ICO said: ‘As with all health apps, we would expect organisations to safeguard their users’ privacy and have transparent policies in place.

‘This review is intended to establish both the good and bad of how the apps are working currently.

‘Once we have more information, we will explore next steps, but we will not hesitate to take regulatory action to protect the public if necessary.’

To prepare for its review, the ICO is calling for more women who have used these apps to share their experience through taking part in a new poll.  

The ICO also said it is contacting some of the most popular women’s health apps in the UK users to find out how they are processing users’ personal information.

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