Health apps used to track women’s periods and fertility will be reviewed by the UK’s data watchdog after suggestions some might be collecting data from people.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) announced the review after a survey found that more than half of women using such apps noticed an increase in baby- or fertility-related ads after signing up.
Nearly a fifth of the women who saw the rise of targeted advertising described it as “distressing.”
The ICO said its review would focus on the potential harm caused by such apps, such as developers creating “unnecessarily complicated and confusing privacy policies” to lead people to unknowingly share their sensitive personal data.
The watchdog will also examine whether companies store unnecessary amounts of data on women and whether people who sign up are targeted for advertising.
Period and fertility apps will be subject to a review by Britain’s data watchdog over fears they may be misusing women’s sensitive personal data (file image)
Privacy in women’s health apps has come under scrutiny after shocking cases in the US where some companies were found to be selling information to third parties.
There are fears similar practices are taking place in the UK, as a report last year warned that four in five of the UK’s most popular period tracker apps share personal data with third parties.
Reproductive rights advocates have also raised the alarm that such apps could be used to track abortions in women who submit their data.
The ICO-commissioned survey of 1,100 women found that women valued the way their data was used and the security with which it was stored more than cost and ease of use when choosing an app.
Emily Keaney, ICO’s deputy commissioner for regulatory policy, said: “As with all healthcare apps, we would expect organizations to safeguard the privacy of their users and have transparent policies in place.”
‘This review aims to establish the good and bad of how apps currently work.
“Once we have more information, we will explore next steps, but we will not hesitate to take regulatory action to protect the public if necessary.”
To prepare for its review, the ICO is calling on more women who have used these apps to share their experience by participating in a new survey.
The ICO also said it is contacting some of the most popular women’s health apps in the UK to find out how they process users’ personal information.