The Ethical Risks in Fertility Tracking

Blog. Investors are pouring money into apps that allow women to track their fertility. This can be good for couples wanting to control when to get pregnant and for science. But there are huge privacy pitfalls here, as we are talking about extremely sensitive data. And many fertility trackers don’t seem to take that into account. But there is one seemingly trustworthy.

Roughly half of all humans get periods for much of their lives, but we actually know very little about them. Few scientists have investigated why they are painful for some women, and hardly seems to affect others.  With a new trend of fertility tracking – fitbit for periods –  data will be collected to find out much more about why and how in menstruation.

EnglisheForPeriod

Top Perious Euphemisms – from http://www.helloclue.com/survey.html

Fertility tracking can – if practised perfect be almost as effective as the pill at preventing pregnancy. And on the other hand a brilliant way of planning a pregnancy. Fertility trackers can also  improve patients’ ability to manage information and to communicate with their doctors and partners.

According to an article the Guardian about the phenonomen loads of tech entrepreneurs are behind period tracking apps believing they can revolutionize reproductive medicine  by gathering unprecedented amounts data about understudied aspects of how female bodies work.

But looking at the apps mentioned in the article, Glow and Kindara, I would worry about using them for such sensitive data. They not only have hard-to-understand privacy policies. They are also headquartered in the US.  And in the US strict privacy laws govern how entities such as hospitals share information about their patients. But they do not apply to mobile health apps. The latter – according to the Guardian – fall under consumer privacy laws, which offer much lower standards of protection. And with fertility tracking we are talking very intimate data which need high protection. For instance, Glow asks for information about the sexual position that a user was in when her partner ejaculated.

If I should chose a fertility tracker, I would opt for the German-based Clue. As opposed to the privacy policies of Glow and Kindara which are long, small-printed and surely written by lawyers for lawyers, this one is understandable. You can use Clue without an account, Clue won’t know who you are, the data is stored on the device with no access by Clue, and if the device is lot or the account deleted, so is your data.

Using Clue with an account, your data can be used anonymously for  clinical and academic research, for data visualization and to create predictions for your cycle.

Further, your cycle data is stored separately from your personal data, keeping it anonymous.

The privacy statement of Clue is both  informative and understandable, and coupled with the fact that German authorities take data protection extremely serious this is enough for me to believe this service is trustworthy.

Update: ConsumerReport in the US has since tested Glow and found serious data security breaches.

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