Texts, emails, and search history are more dangerous than period apps in a post-Roe world, experts warn

·2 min read
Abortion Arizona (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Abortion Arizona (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Period tracking apps are unlikely to be used to police women getting abortions in the United States following Roe v Wade’s overturn, privacy experts have said.

“If tracking your period is useful to you, you don’t need to stop tracking your period, although you may choose to switch to an app that collects less data and stores it locally,” tech lawyer Kendra Albert, assistant professor Maggie Delano, and policy analyst Emma Weil wrote in a Medium post.

The researchers set out two scenarios by which period tracking information could be used by law enforcement: the first is if someone is prosecuted for an abortion out-of-state; the second is if a person performs a self-managed abortion.

“In their investigation, police try to find evidence that someone intended to miscarry, or was otherwise endangering the viability of their pregnancy,” they write. “Prosecutors must be able to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt — data from a period tracker app is not enough on its own to prove this, even if it’s relevant.”

They continue: “Taken together, this means the primary digital threat for people who take abortion pills is the actual evidence of intention stored on your phone, in the form of texts, emails, and search/web history.”

It is recommended that women secure their text messages using software like Signal and use a privacy-focused browser such as DuckDuckGo.

For women and other people who want to continue tracking their reproductive cycles, Euki, Drip, and the Apple Health apps are recommended as they only store data on the device – although Apple Health apps have the option to back it up to iCloud.

Earlier this month, Motherboard reported that the Stardust period tracker app – one of the most downloaded of its kind on the App Store – would voluntarily comply with law enforcement requests for user data even if there was not a legal requirement to do so.

In response, Stardust updated its policy that it would “comply with or respond to law enforcement or a legal process or a request for cooperation by a government or other entity, when legally required. Any Health Data that the Company is legally required to share cannot be linked to you and will remain anonymous.”

Roe v Wade guaranteed a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, but Justice Samuel Alito and the other members of the court gave states power to legislate abortions at a state level.

Previously, women had total autonomy to terminate a pregnancy during the first trimester, and allowed some state influence over abortions in the second and third trimesters.

“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” Justice Alito wrote in a draft of an opinion dated 10 February. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”