Privacy experts said the Flo case could lead to wider user mistrust of women’s health apps.
Flo is certainly not the only app accused of mismanaging intimate data. In 2019, Privacy International, a non-profit group in Britain, investigated a number of popular rule-tracking apps and reported that two of them passed on sensitive information – such as details of user symptoms and contraceptive use – to Facebook and other companies.
Over the past two years, U.S. state lawmakers and attorneys general have begun reviewing period tracking and fertility apps. Last March, several members of Congress sent letters to Apple and Google asking companies to remove all rule trackers that collected users’ health data without obtaining their explicit permission, in a bid to make controllers more accountable.
In the European Union, the responsibility lies entirely with application developers, which gives consumers broad rights to control their data. In particular, comprehensive European law – called the General Data Protection Regulation – typically requires companies to obtain explicit permission before collecting or sharing sensitive personal information such as health details.
Deceptive data mining, deceptive privacy policies, and other troubling practices don’t remove the need for women’s health apps. But regulators tackling leaking apps, one by one, also don’t give consumers much confidence or clarity.
What is needed, experts suggest, is a new regulatory framework that allows healthcare providers and researchers to work with mainstream applications to better understand women’s health, whether it’s symptoms. , drugs, or different responses to the disease.
Until recently, women were under-represented in medical research, clinical trials of drugs and vaccines, and even biology textbooks, leaving healthcare providers with great blind spots in their understanding and ability. to take care of women’s bodies, which often have very different needs and responses than men’s bodies.