Period Tracker Flo launches anonymous mode amid post-Ro privacy concerns

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Diving Brief:

  • Period tracking app Flo launched an anonymous mode to protect users’ sensitive reproductive health data months after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
  • The company, which has a dominant market share with 48 million monthly users and has faced regulatory scrutiny over privacy in the past, vowed to release the situation soon after the court ruling.
  • The new anonymous mode gives users the option to use the app without their name, email address or technical identifiers associated with their health data.

Diving Insight:

The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health case overturned decades of precedent and threw the nation’s health care system into disarray. The ruling led to the emergence of a patchwork of reproductive health access in the United States, and concerns among pro-abortion activists and privacy advocates that states could use data from cycle tracking and other reproductive health applications against patients seeking abortion services.

In the wake of the decision, a number of popular women’s health apps have pledged to enhance privacy and security protocols, including Flo’s app. The UK-based Women’s Health app launched its anonymous status Wednesday for all iOS users. The company said that Android users will have access next month.

To secure patient data, Flo partnered with security company Cloudflare to integrate a system that ensures that no single party that processes user data for anonymous mode accounts has complete information about who the user is or what they are trying to access. This is in addition to steps Flo has already taken, including encrypting all data and passcode protection to reduce the risk of unauthorized access to the app, the company said.

“Information about women’s health should not be a liability,” Cath Everett, vice president of products and content at Flo, said in a statement. “Now, more than ever, women deserve access, tracking, and insight into their personal health information without fear of government prosecution.”

The company does not have a proven track record when it comes to maintaining user data within the company. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission finalized a settlement with Flo requiring it to obtain user consent before sharing their personal health information, after finding sensitive health data shared from millions of users with marketing and analytics companies including Google and Facebook.

Flo offers Anonymous mode as an option and not as a default because there are some downsides to the setup. The company said that once anonymous mode is activated, users will not be able to recover their data if their devices are lost or stolen, and it may limit the personalization benefits.

Democrats in Washington have taken a tougher stance on data privacy in a post-Raw world.

In July, the House Oversight Committee began investigating how the business practices of reproductive health apps and data brokers weaponize consumers’ private information, and the Federal Trade Commission pledged to crack down on medical and location data sharing, following an executive order from President Joe Biden.

One month later, the agency sued Idaho-based data broker Kochava for selling geolocation data that could be used to track consumers’ locations, including to and from sensitive areas such as reproductive health clinics.

But advocates say the administration can do more. On Tuesday, dozens of Democratic senators asked HHS to protect women’s privacy through the Health Information Transmission and Accountability Act, by restricting providers from sharing patients’ reproductive health information without their explicit consent. However, it is not clear to what extent the administration can rely on HIPAA to protect abortion data without action from Congress.

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