Data About Your Period Is For Sale

Data About Your Period Is For Sale

Do you use a period tracker app?

If so, beware. In a post-Roe America, that shit is about to become weaponized. And currently, there are no laws on the books stopping tech companies from handing data about your period over for criminal prosecution.

California Representative Sara Jacobs wants to change that. This week, she announced the "My Body, My Data Act," which would protect the privacy of reproductive and sexual health data and give consumers the right to access or delete their data.

Because, yes. Right now, companies can legally sell or pass out whatever information they want about your period.

And they do.

You're selling data about my WHAT?!

Millions of people in the US use apps to track their menstrual cycles. And right now, there are no federal laws protecting the privacy of that information.

When Roe is overturned, information from period apps will certainly be used to criminally prosecute abortions, suspected abortions, and miscarriages. (If you don't think miscarriages are about to be criminalized across the country, you haven't been paying attention -- it's already happening, and not only in red states.)

In fact, some enterprising fascist states are already in the period-tracking business. Missouri, always on the forefront of the War on Women, had a state health director who made himself a nice, creepy spreadsheet tracking the menstrual cycles of Planned Parenthood patients. And that was before the imminent doom of Roe.

The state isn't the only entity your period data needs protection from. The privacy policies among the apps vary widely, and HIPAA doesn't apply to the vast majority of period trackers. So in addition to your menstrual cycle potentially becoming evidence in a criminal prosecution, your data can also be sold to third parties. Data related to pregnancy is particularly valuable to advertisers, who use that information to market all manner of products to parents-to-be.

Under our current anarchic privacy laws, there is basically no prohibition on the kinds of data that apps can sell. And sell it, they do. Selling users' data is already a multi-billion dollar industry. Every day, apps sell their users' data to everyone from tech companies to advertisers to insurance companies to ... wait for it ... the government itself.

Last year, fertility-tracking app Flo Health settled a case with the FTC after sharing millions of users' health data with marketing and tech companies, including Google and Facebook. In 2019, it came out that period-tracking app Ovia was selling users' data to their employers. And last month, a Vice report detailed how a company called SafeGraph is already selling data about who is going to abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood locations. A week's worth of data from SafeGraph costs just $160.

Not only is selling data about periods a disgusting invasion of privacy; it, too, could lead to criminal prosecutions of pregnancy. Law enforcement frequently gets around the Fourth Amendment by buying data, rather than compelling companies to produce it. And, too, anti-woman extremist groups (like, for example, "Pro-Life Wisconsin, which is currently working to remove the life-saving exception from Wisconsin's pre-Civil War abortion ban) could purchase the data and gleefully turn it over to woman-hating law enforcement officials.

Even "anonymized" data can be relatively easy to link to a specific person -- particularly when it includes geolocating data. In Carpenter v. United States, which went up to the Supreme Court, the feds could even tell which of his pregnant wife's OBGYN appointments the defendant attended. That case requires the government to get a warrant to obtain geolocation data ... unless they buy it on the open market like some common Mark Zuckerberg.

The My Body, My Data Act will be officially introduced when Congress returns from recess and addresses a lot of the problems with our current lack of regulation. In particular, as detailed by Congresswoman Jacobs, the bill would:

Limit the personal reproductive and sexual health data that can be collected, retained, used, or disclosed to only what is needed to deliver a product or service.

Protect personal data collected by entities not currently covered under HIPAA, including data collected by apps, cell phones, and search engines.

Require regulated entities to develop and share a privacy policy outlining how they collect, retain, use, and disclose personal reproductive health information.

Direct the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce the law and to develop rules to implement the statute.
Create a private right of action to allow individuals to hold regulated entities accountable for violations.

Provide additional consumer protections, including the right of an individual to access or delete their personal data if they choose to.

Include a non-preemption clause that allows states to provide further protection for reproductive and sexual health privacy.
The bill has already been endorsed by groups like Planned Parenthood, NARAL, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity, and the National Partnership for Women & Families.
Even if the My Body, My Data Act passes the House (which it absolutely should, schedule that committee hearing the very second the bill is introduced!), the sad truth is that it's probably dead in the Do Nothing Senate. But you know what? Let's make those motherfuckers explain exactly why they think it's totally okay for companies to sell or pass out information about menstrual cycles. (And, for that matter, attach a codification of Roe to everything that moves, keep trying to put it back in conference, and make the Senate keep taking it out.)

And, as an added bonus, we all get to see how uncomfortable these old white men who want to regulate the fuck out of our uteruses get when they have to talk about periods.

Abortion is already inaccessible in states like Texas and Oklahoma. Pregnancy is about to be criminalized all around the country. And if the federal government doesn't take action soon, states will be buying the data from your period tracking app to figure out who might have had an abortion or miscarriage.

By the end of this month, Roe will be gone. And while the criminalization of abortion is horrific enough on its own, that's not all that abortion bans do. They also criminalize pregnancy itself. And right now, there is zero federal protection for data about information as intimate as the details of your last period.

We need action. Now.

[ Rep. Jacobs ]

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Jamie Lynn Crofts
Jamie Lynn Crofts is sick of your bullshit. When she’s not wrangling cats, she’s probably writing about nerdy legal stuff, rocking out at karaoke, or tweeting about god knows what. Jamie would kindly like to remind everyone that it’s perfectly legal to tell Bob Murray to eat shit.

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