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Study Finds Period Tracking Apps May Be Sharing Intimate Details with Facebook

Facebook also wants to know “if you are feeling happy, anxious or excited." And knowing when you are in a vulnerable state of mind means advertisers can strategically target you.

by Meera Navlakha
10 September 2019, 12:00pm

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash

This article originally appeared on VICE India.

Period tracking apps have the ability to track so much — a woman’s body weight, the heaviness of her menstrual flow, when she last had sex and if she used contraception. It’s private information, without a doubt. But it may not be as private as one may think. A new report from Privacy International — a British-based advocacy firm — has revealed that a few menstrual tracking apps are likely to be handing out this personal data to other companies.

At least two period-tracking apps, Maya and MIA Fem, have been found to share these details with Facebook. Buzzfeed News revealed that the information was as intimate as symptoms of menstruation, such as swelling and cramps.

Maya, owned by India-based Plackal Tech, has been downloaded over 5 million times on Google Play while MIA Fem, owned by Cyprus-based Mobapp Development Limited has over 2 million users around the world.

According to the report, Facebook attains this information through Facebook’s Software Development Kit (SDK), which allows app developers to collect user data so that Facebook can show them targeted advertisements.

Privacy International found that Maya lets Facebook know as soon as a user opens the application — and even before they agree to the app’s privacy policy. According to Privacy International’s analytics, MIA Fem doesn’t immediately share data with Facebook. But the app is allowed to share and suggest articles with users, which are tailored to their interests. Those articles are then shared with Facebook.

In an email to Buzzfeed News, Plackal Tech wrote, “The Ad SDK helps us earn revenue by displaying ads that our users can opt out of by subscribing to Maya's premium subscription. All data accessed by Maya are also essential to the proper functioning of the product. Predicting information pertaining to menstrual cycles is complex and dependent on thousands of variables.”

Following the report, two of the three companies Privacy International named updated their applications. Plackal Tech, for instance, told the company in an email that they have “hence removed both the Facebook core SDK and Analytics SDK from Maya.”

MIA Fem dangled the threat of legal action against Privacy International and Buzzfeed News for their exposé.

But why would Facebook and other entities want to know what your mood is like or when you’ve last had sex?

Menstrual apps are privy to information women rarely share with any other sort of apps, or even the people in their closest circles. This information can fuel the aforementioned targeted ads. If a woman is nearing pregnancy, for example, her consumer needs will soon shift.

Facebook also wants to know “if you are feeling happy, anxious or excited,” wrote Privacy International.

“There is a reason why advertisers are so interested in your mood; understanding when a person is in a vulnerable state of mind means you can strategically target them,” read the post.

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Tagged:
women
Facebook
privacy
Menstruation
App
personal data
period tracker apps
Period apps