Period tracking apps downloaded by millions are sending intimate data to Facebook, including when a user last had sex and even whether or not they’ve been masturbating, a new report has found.
Britain-based advocacy group Privacy International studied a range of period-tracking apps to see exactly what information was shared with the social network.
Though the most popular menstruation apps – Period Tracker, Period Track Flo and Clue Period Tracker – did not share data with Facebook, others did: Maya (5 million downloads on Google Play), and MIA Fem (1 million downloads). Both are available for download in Australia.
It’s possible other menstruation apps that were not part of the PI study are sharing medical or otherwise intimate data with Facebook.
PI said: “The wide reach of the apps … might mean that intimate details of the private lives of millions of users across the world are shared with Facebook and other third parties …”
Aside from sex and wanking, information shared included what kind of contraception a person was using, whether they were having unprotected sex, how much sleep they were getting, when their periods were beginning and ending, and what kind of mood they were in.
How was the information shared, and who with?
The PI report published screenshots that show Maya sending data to Facebook, including phrases such as “breast tenderness”, “pill data edited”, “anxious”, and “unprotected sex”.
Whatever a user wrote in a diary-like section within the app was also shared verbatim.
This sensitive health information was freely shared both with Facebook and a third party – a Silicon Valley analytics company called CleverTap. In their response to the PI report, CleverTap describe themselves as “a customer retention platform that helps consumer brands maximize user lifetime value, optimize key conversion metrics, and boost retention rates.”
On being shown the study, Maya told PI it had stopped sharing personally identifiable data or medical data with Facebook, with immediate effect.
The other app, MIA Fem, was sharing data in a more roundabout way, Privacy International’s analysis found.
It asked users about all kinds of habits ranging from smoking to coffee consumption and tampon use to masturbation, and used this to suggest articles. The titles of these articles were shared with Facebook, and on their own convey a lot of information.
Titles like “9 popular myths about masturbation” and “6 unexpected effects of alcohol on a woman’s body” indicate what the user has has been up to.
In response to the report, Facebook said the platform requires app developers to be clear with users about the information they are sharing with Facebook.
“Our terms of service prohibit developers from sending us sensitive health information and we enforce against them when we learn they are,” it said in a statement.
“In addition, ad targeting based on people’s interests does not leverage information gleaned from people’s activity across other apps or websites.”