Many women use apps on their phones to track their menstrual cycles for various reasons.
“We see patients who are just trying to understand when their period might come, trying to get pregnant or trying not to get pregnant,” Dr. Jessica Walter, infertility specialist with Northwestern Medicine, said.
Walter sees it every day.
“At almost every patient consult, when I ask someone when was the first day of your last period, everyone whips out their phone,” Walter said.
Now that abortion is illegal is several states, with more expected to ban or restrict the procedure soon, some worry about the digital trail these apps may leave behind.
“There is concern that with the criminalization of abortion, this information could be solicited by investigators by officials and then that information could be used potentially against the patient,” Walter said.
Cooper Quintin is a senior staff technologist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to defending digital privacy, free speech and innovation. He says the concern goes beyond period trackers.
“Law enforcement is looking at text messages, emails and Facebook message and things like that,” Quintin said. “We think that those are the actually biggest concern right now.”
To avoid leaving a trail when messaging about abortion, Quintin recommends turning on disappearing messages in an app with encryption, such as Signal or WhatsApp.
When it comes to period tracking apps, Quintin recommends women pay attention to where the data is stored.
“I think a good thing to do is to use one that stores the data locally on your phone,” Quintin said.
Instead of an app, woman can use a spreadsheet that is saved directly to your phone or computer.
“Law enforcement can’t order you to lock your phone. Only a judge can order you to unlock your phone,” Quintin said.
The most secure tracker may be the most simple, an old-fashioned paper calendar.
“I think the important thing is just to empower yourself, especially in this time period, you have to rely on educating yourself on the risks where you’re at, based on where you live,” Walter said.