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Top fertility apps misusing patient data says study

A number of fertility apps have been collecting and sharing their user’s data without their consent according to a new study.

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Millions of women use these apps to boost their chances of getting pregnant

Some top-rated fertility apps are going too far in collecting people’s data around life events and public health issues, a new study suggests.

Data being collected includes information around pregnancy, infertility and abortion, with this data potentially being sold on to third parties in some cases.

The top 30 fertility apps from the Google Play store were investigated by researchers from Newcastle and Umea Universities, with privacy notices and tracking practices also analysed.

Their approach was held up against the backdrop of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Some apps were found to track a large range of intimate data, such as sexual activity, mood and medical records, and most did not obey GDPR laws,

Researchers are now calling for a tightening of the categorisation of these apps by platforms to protect women from intimate and deeply personal information being exploited.

Dr Teresa Almeida, from Umea University, said: “Data is kept in such a vulnerable condition, one in which a default setting allows not only for monetising data but also to sustain systems of interpersonal violence or harm, such as in cases of pregnancy loss or abortion, demands a more careful approach to how technology is designed and developed.

“While digital health technologies help people better manage their reproductive lives, risks increase when data given voluntarily are not justly protected and data subjects see their reproductive rights challenged to the point of e.g. personal safety.”

Fertility apps are used by millions of women to offer an affordable way to manage their pregnancy.

Users enter data into the app, which can then be used to monitor their menstrual cycle and predict the optimum time for ovulation.

Fertility programmes can bring huge benefits for women who are trying to conceive and can also be used to support women during pregnancy, such as HomeMidwife which recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to grow its services.

One other point that the scientists found is that a lot of these apps have been miscatergorised on their respected platforms.

The bulk of these apps classed themselves as ‘health and fitness’ which the researchers argued is problematic.

Dr Maryam Mehrnezhad, of Newcastle University, said: “Users of these apps are normally women who are considered marginalised user groups and the data concerning these groups is personal, more sensitive, and identified by GDPR legislation as ‘special category data’ requiring extra protection.”

The research will be presented at the CHI 2021 Conference tomorrow.

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