How much do pregnancy and period tracking apps share with employers and insurance companies?

Some of the most downloaded medical apps in both the AppStore and Google Play are mobile applications that are meant to help women better understand their bodies – those apps provide users with information and guidance during arguably the most uncertain and uncontrollable part of life. Very often women use such tools to look for ways how to best deal with feelings such as anxiety and anticipation that sometimes accompany them before, during, and after pregnancy.

While tech companies develop such software and products to serve the women, sometimes the main drive is to get the most of the lucrative newly born FemTech market. According to Frost & Sullivan, a business consulting firm involved in market research, the FemTech Market will reach nearly $50 billion by 2025. In the next five years, we will see more and more companies who develop software, products, and services meant to help women. Some apps claim that their algorithms can have a positive impact on reducing premature births, and can improve the chances for natural conception. Such apps sometimes also claim that they can identify signs of postpartum depression.

While there is no harm in tracking menstruation cycles, improving nutrition and sexual wellness using a smartphone app, most of the times users do not spend the time needed to go through the thousands of words in the terms and conditions section of those applications. Consumers are sharing very intimate details with the app developers without being fully aware that sometimes the very same data gathered ends up sold to third parties such as employers and insurance companies.

Most of the time, FemTech apps are meant to make money out of targeted in-app advertising, often funded by fertility-support supplements, life insurance companies, cord-blood banking service providers and companies offering cleaning products. However, one of the main streams of revenue come from brokering the billions of data points gathered from women to third parties that include insurance companies and corporations with thousands of employees.

Why would insurance companies or employers be interested in such data?

While app developers such as Ovia claim that they would never share full details with employers or insurance companies, very often technology-savvy companies can cross-reference such information with other data, making it possible to re-identify people. Even though Ovia says that its contract forbids employers from attempting to re-identify any of the employees, if a company only has a few pregnant women on staff, bad actors might be able to connect the dots and make those women vulnerable to abuse. This may come in different forms – insurance companies may decide to bump up costs, and employers might choose to limit the coverage of health-care benefits.

Another privacy concern that should be kept in mind is the fact that app developers may not be able to secure the intimate details you’ve shared with them. Outdated cybersecurity practices may make millions of women using such apps more vulnerable – the data could be exposed to leaks or cyber security incidents. With so many data breaches, hackers may not find it as difficult to fill in the missing puzzle and identify people’s real identity even if data is encrypted or real names aren’t stored. There is no harm in taking advantage of modern technology. Some app users concerned about privacy have found their way around – they do not share real names and personal information, and use throwaway emails to register for the apps.

It is a fact that such applications can help women pick the right time to conceive, and guide them through their pregnancies and postpartum journey of recovery. Again, consumers must be aware that whatever they share on the app, might end up being in the hands of their employer or the hackers. While antivirus software cannot guarantee that employer will not find a way to take advantage of the information they have been purchased from app developers, having all smart mobile devices protected by quality software is undoubtedly an excellent way to make sure hackers won’t be able to take advantage of you while you are most vulnerable.

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