Warnings to delete cycle tracking apps flooded social media in the wake of the United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and end federal abortion protections. The data those apps contain, people feared, could be weaponized in court.
As abortion starts to be criminalized in parts of the country, fears around personal data aren’t unfounded. People who seek abortions in jurisdictions where it is now banned aren’t wrong to worry that their data could be used against them. But experts say that data from period tracking apps probably isn’t the biggest risk in a post-Roe landscape. People should be more worried about more mundane data — things like search history and text messages.
Even if they aren’t the primary weapons against people who might need abortions, period tracking apps do have sensitive information. These apps collect information on when people are in various stages of their menstrual cycle and can let people track things like PMS symptoms and sexual activity. Some offer to predict windows where people are most likely to become pregnant. The sheer volume of data can offer some insight into someone’s reproductive health. Theoretically, if they show someone stop menstruating for a few months and then start up again, it could hint that they may have had a pregnancy end.
And the apps, like most digital health devices, aren’t protected by medical privacy laws
And the apps, like most digital health devices, aren’t protected by medical privacy laws. The companies who make them have broad leeway to decide what to do with the information they collect. Even ones with firm privacy policies say that they’ll give information to law enforcement if they’re required to by a warrant or subpoena.
But so far, at least, period tracking app data hasn’t been used to prosecute people suspected of breaking laws criminalizing abortion or other health care. It is a possibility and one people should take seriously, Cynthia Conti-Cook, a technology fellow with the Ford Foundation’s gender, racial, and ethnic justice team, told The Verge. It’s unlikely, though, that it’d be the main form of evidence used against someone suspected of having an abortion.
Period tracking can be a useful way to keep tabs on overall health or to monitor any reproductive health-related issues. Based on what experts are seeing so far, it’s not a huge danger for people who like having that information on hand and likely isn’t exposing them to a major risk.
But it’s also not unreasonable to be nervous about tracking any reproductive health-related information in light of the shifting landscape around abortion. So, if having the data sitting on a phone or server makes you uncomfortable, here’s what you can do:
How to delete tracking data
It’s easy to delete a period tracking app from your phone. Unfortunately, deleting an app doesn’t guarantee that your health data has been deleted along with it. For example, if you were to delete the Flo app, the company could retain your data for three years in case you decide to re-download the app.
This is because while some period tracking apps store data locally on your phone, many store your data in the cloud. In the case of the latter, your period data can remain accessible to the company and third parties unless you delete your account first. If you’re unsure which type of period app you have, try to remember if you created an account when you first downloaded the app. If so, the app likely stores at least some of your personal data on its servers.
Unfortunately, deleting an app doesn’t guarantee that your health data has been deleted along with it
For these apps, you must deactivate your account in order to delete your data. That said, be aware that deactivating your account doesn’t mean the company has immediately deleted all your personal data either. Some period tracking apps may take several weeks to comply with the deletion process. It’s a good idea to follow up by emailing customer support to ensure that your request has been honored.
There are thousands of period tracking apps in Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store, each with its own privacy policies. While it’s impossible to list how to delete each one, here’s how to get started for some of the most popular period tracking apps, what their data retention policies are, and some general guidelines to follow.
- In the Flo app, go to Menu > Home > Contact us and submit a deactivation request. Anonymous users will have to register their accounts first.
- You can also request that your account and data be deleted by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
- In the Glow app, go to More (iOS) or the side bar (Android). Then head to Account Settings, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and select Delete Account. For iOS users, you can also find the Delete Account option under the Log Out button. Glow’s support page says deleting your account will also wipe your data from its system and that it cannot be restored.
- You can also delete your account and personal data by emailing email@example.com.
- The Verge reached out to Glow to see if there is a retention period after an account is deleted but did not immediately receive a response.
- In the Clue app, go to More > Support > Account Questions (iOS) / Account & Data (Android). Scroll down and tap “How Can I Delete My Account?” and select Delete my Clue account. You’ll be prompted to back up your data. After, enter your password and tap Delete account permanently.
- In the app, go to Settings > Reset or delete my account > Delete my account and data. Enter your username and password. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If you log into your Ovia account via Facebook, you must follow the methods listed above. Removing your Ovia account from within the Facebook app will not delete your account or data.
Cycle Tracking on Apple Health:
Deleting data from period tracking apps that locally store data is easier, as the bulk of your data will be erased once you delete the app. However, you should still do your due diligence. Before you delete the app:
- Revoke any sharing permissions you may have granted to third-party apps, health sharing services, or social media. You can generally do this in an app’s settings menu in the section where you set up app integrations.
- Some period tracking apps that locally store data, like Cycles or Spot On by Planned Parenthood, give users the option to create accounts for a better user experience. Even if the app doesn’t have access to your health data, creating an account means the company likely has a record of your personal contact information. Reach out to customer support and request to delete your account. Keep in mind there may be a delay. Cycles, for instance, may take up to 60 days to fully delete your personal account information.
- If you want and the app allows, export your data for your personal records.