No Body’s Business But Mine

People all over the world share with menstruation apps their deeply intimate data - the date of their last periods, dates and details pertaining to their sex lives, their moods, their health. This data is being ruthlessly exploited and shared with third parties to target and profile people. 

Josefin from unspash

In age of data exploitation, the connection between offline and online data processing and the rise of the internet of things, means that our bodies are up for grab too.

What is the problem

The growing market of apps which provide to sexual and reproductive are collecting and processing vasts amounts of data. Menstruation apps collect our most intimate data. Not just the date of our last periods but also dates and details pertaining to our sexual lives, our moods and our health. And when this data is shared with third parties, it is our bodies and sexualities that risk being ruthlessly exploited.

Different legal and policy regimes mean that these apps are subject to different obligations, and they also make different choices in terms of how the app is designed and operates.

When companies know what mood we are in, what our love life is like and all about our health, they have huge power over us. From the perspective of advertisers, it could mean users may be targeted with products based on their knowledge about how they feel, and from the perspective of insurance companies, this is yet another source of intelligence to target and inform the premiums they offer certain individuals.

What is the solution

Companies that have been exploiting menstruation apps need to be exposed. Companies must review their business models and rethink the design of their products in order to protect their users for targeting, profiling and undue harm.

Applications and technologies addressing the needs of women and gender fluid people need to be developed with a feminist lens. The needs and expectations of menstruators need to be understood, respected and met without imposing a rigid and narrow patriarchal discourse on them. Technology needs to take into account the fluidity of people’s identities, and their needs and expectations, and this requires considering how apps are designed and for what purpose.

Privacy International campaigns for strong international standards for data protection worldwide. Such safeguards provide an important building block of a robust protection framework. Regardless of where they live people who use menstruation apps should be protected by a strong and enforceable legal framework.

What PI is doing

PI is investigating various menstruation apps across the world to document how they function and operate, including what data is generated, collected and processed through their use. 

Building on our work on Android apps sharing data with third parties, we are exploring data sharing practices of menstruation apps, and analysing such practices in the regulatory and legal framework to which they are subject to identifying if there are varying practices across