Period tracker apps share deeply personal data with Facebook

Privacy International report uncovers how menstrual cycle tracker apps invade users' privacy

Smartphone and some period accessories

Period tracker apps are sending personal data about its users' health and sexual activity to Facebook, according to research conducted by Privacy International and BuzzFeed News.

Apps such as MIA Fem and Maya were allegedly found to have sent information about the use of contraception, the timings of periods, symptoms like swelling and cramps and more, directly to the social network.

The data is shared via Facebook's Software Development Kit (SDK), which helps app developers incorporate particular features and collect user data so it can show them targeted ads. When a user puts personal information into an app, it may also be sent by the SDK to Facebook, though Facebook requires app developers to get user consent to do so. 

"Menstruation apps are not just concerned with your menstruation cycles," Privacy International wrote on its blog. "They collect information about your health, your sexual life, your mood and more - all in exchange for telling you what day of the month you're most fertile or the date of your next period.

"In fact, the data you share with your menstruation app is probably information you would not share with others."

One of the apps, Maya, tells Facebook whenever you open the app and starts sharing some data with the social network even before the user agrees to the app's privacy policy, Privacy International found.

"When Maya asks you to enter how you feel and offers suggestions of symptoms you might have - suggestions like blood pressure, swelling or acne - one would hope this data would be treated with extra care," the report said. "But no, that information is shared with Facebook."

Worryingly, the app shares data regarding contraception, user's moods and when they've had sex, with a diary-like function to add thoughts. All this deeply personal information is also shared with Facebook, according to the report.

Obviously, advertising firms are deeply interested in people's moods as it helps them to develop marketing strategies, particularly targeted online ads. Beyond social media, companies like Apple are also interested in this information, with fertility checkers and period trackers added to the recently announced iOS13.

A spokesperson for Facebook told BuzzFeed it requires app developers to be clear with users about the information they are sharing with it and have a "lawful basis" for the disclosure and use of data.

"We have systems in place to detect and delete certain types of data such as Social Security Numbers, passwords, and other personal data, such as email or phone number," the spokesperson said. "We have begun looking at ways to improve our system and products to detect and filter out more types of potentially sensitive data."

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