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It Is Risky Tracking Your Fertility

Photo: Dragos Gontariu,

Is it okay to participate in the criticized ad tech system, when your service is dealing with such sensitive data as women’s fertility data? For the German-founded privacy-focused start-up Clue, it is a constant balance between being user-friendly and private – and being up against competing apps with less restrictions and privacy focus from e.g. the US or Russia.

In January 2020, the Norwegian Consumer Council released a study, Out of Control,  showing how some popular apps, including the German Clue, share intimate data about consumers with dozens of companies involved in the advertising business.

This is not correct, says Clue, who have subsequently asked for corrections – also with Consumer Reports. “Clue does not share any of its users’ health or menstrual cycle data, nor do we sell any user data to any third-party service, including advertisers, and we never will,” they say in an official statement.

Clue is privacy-focused compared to its competitors. Being a start-up the founders have to use social media and digital advertising to reach new customers and this they are part of the ad tech industry, according to general counsel Carrie Walter, who agree to be interviewed on the topic.

Why do you have Facebook Connect?
“It is really good question why it is so important. A lot of people working here with us at Clue in Berlin don’t touch Facebook. But certain demographics would never sign up if they didn’t have that opportunity.”

So, at least you could warn users against using it?
“That is a good idea.  We should nudge people to sign up directly and not with Facebook Connect.”

What about sharing data via third-party cookies?
“”We are changing the website now, so that will be clear opt-in for cookies, and for the app it will be a clear and easier opt-out. We never share any sensitive tracking data at all, and the analytics data is for our own use, so that we can understand how users interact with the app, learn what features are useful and popular, and which maybe aren’t, and improve it. We don’t show ads in the app.”

Only for marketing to get new customers have we been using third-party marketing tools, e.g. to only reach women. Some of that use is changing now as well.  We have decided to stop sharing any information with Facebook. If you do ads on Facebook, then in order to show your ads to users who are more likely to be interested, you share with Facebook for instance whether the concrete ad ID has the app or not to avoid doing marketing towards those who already have the app. But that we have stopped and will be updating our privacy policy.”

According to Carrie Walter, the Clue management constantly balance between privacy and user-friendliness.

“We are in between convenience and security. Apps that are totally sealed off and used in science for example, are typically very clunky, and few people want to use an app like that. We would never have a chance to reach as many users, so we are trying to navigate this space,” she says.

If you use any digital app or service that is networked in the digital economy system, you will increase your footprint. There will always be some level of risk going digital, but Clue, which is regulated by the German data authorities and the strictest privacy laws in the world, is probably still the best best – if you don’t want to go back to pen and paper and your own math. Of course you should never sign up with Facebook Connect and you should install an adblocker on your phone and also a VPN service. See more on digital selfdefense here.