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What Your Period Tracking App Knows About You

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

“ It’s just easy to track your menstrual cycle with it, that’s why I use it.” “Who has time to track your menstrual cycle on your own, here you can just select some options and it does the job for you” “ I’m sexually active, and the app helps me and my partner track my cycle so as to avoid any surprises later on”.

These were some of the reasons I came across why women are increasingly using period tracking apps for their menstrual cycles. However, what many fail to know is the data they so easily put, is being viewed by many many more people behind the scenes.

Sometime in 2019, Privacy International, a UK based advocacy group, revealed a piece of startling information about some period tracking apps. The group revealed that some applications, such as MIA Fem and Maya were sharing sensitive user information with social networking sites. The report revealed that user data revolving around contraception use, monthly periods and menstruation symptoms were being shared by these apps with websites like Facebook.

This isn’t the first time mobile applications have been found guilty of sharing data with third parties. However, what is interesting is how in this digital age, all data has a monetary purpose. That includes data about your menstrual cycle as well. 

Period tracking applications have gained popularity over the past few years. These applications are readily available online. Without paying anything, period tracking apps can be used by women to track not just their period, but also figure out their ovulation dates, sexual activity, symptoms of PMS and much more. However, with their rise in popularity, it is also important to see how their usage intersects with data privacy and security of users. 

Representational image.

How Data Is Used By Period Tracking Apps

The ‘Femtech’ market as it is called, is projected to grow into a $53 billion industry by 2027. In the US alone, its market value will touch $50 billion by 2025. However, the main value of the market isn’t generated by women using the applications or services these apps offer.

The industry’s valuation is booming because of the data it has to offer. More importantly, the data it has to offer for marketers, medical companies and even pregnancy clinics.

Period Tracking Apps Are Promoting Commercialization Of Pregnancy 

The term commercialization of pregnancy isn’t new. It refers to the pressure put on pregnant women to succumb to capitalistic models of beauty, well-being and childcare. However, what is interesting is how period tracking apps contribute to it as well. By keeping a track of period cycles and the sex cycle of women, these apps can generate valuable health data, which is then sold to advertisers, researchers and brands directly.

This data is extremely valuable to companies, as it is capable of influencing the buying behaviour and consumer decisions of people. 

For example, if an advertiser knows a user is pregnant and is preparing to become a parent, it offers a huge opportunity to show them ads for products you know they’re on the lookout for. This means that the person will be pitched everything from baby formula, clothes to toys and even car seats. Glow Fertility, an ovulation tracker has even started offering IVF and egg freezing suggestions to its users by mining the fertility data of its app users! 

Representational image.

How Medical Researchers Use Data From Period Tracker Apps

While you may be using a period tracker app to keep a track of your menstrual cycle, researchers and medical agencies allegedly use it as a data collection point for their studies. Medical researchers have been known to use data from period tracking apps to study women’s health concerns.

Some of these apps also claim to diagnose medical concerns for its users. The app Clue reported that the daily mood tracking of the section of the app had users reporting that they were experiencing a feeling of ‘sadness’ post the 2016 election results.

Since many users use such apps for sharing the most intimate details about their lives, these applications serve as data gold mines for medical researchers and agencies to base their studies on.

Once you get on one of these apps, there’s no end to the kind of data sharing that takes place. Women using these apps enter as much data as possible to ensure the accuracy of predictions and increase the efficiency of these apps. However, this is the same practice acts as an impediment when it comes to data privacy. 

Period Apps Are Ushering In An Era of Menstrual Surveillance

The data stored by their period tracking apps are also used by employers, as a means of surveillance against its employees. Employers buy this data from period tracking apps, and then use it to monitor their employees.

For example, a Washington Post report revealed how video game company Activision Blizzard sources data from Ovia Health for this purpose. According to it, Activision Blizzard used the data from Ovia Health to find out how many of its employees are pregnant, trying to get pregnant or facing high-risk pregnancies. To make sure its employees used Ovia Health, the company went as far as to pay its employees $1 a day to use the application! 

It is common knowledge that pregnant women face discrimination in the workplace. By providing such data to employers, period apps run the risk of promoting such differences against women at the workplace. The data could also be used by the company to alter its health care benefits or insurance plans issued to the employee, thus putting them at a disadvantage. By having data that can predict when a woman employee is likely to get pregnant, employers can save up on health insurance expense, of which pregnancy forms a large chunk

Privacy International revealed the extent of the information shared by period trackers. Apps were found to be sharing information on favourite sexual positions, use of contraceptives and the general mood of its users. This was then used to target customers, with specific ads. Women who are pregnant or seeking to become pregnant are likely to change their shopping habits. This is the sole main reason why data from period trackers is so important to brands.

So the next time you use a period tracker, beware of the fact that the app may be using your data for several purposes, and in some cases, even third party organizations may be privy to it. Therefore, it is essential to set your privacy controls, read the terms and conditions and use data protection software to ensure your data isn’t misused.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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