Your period-tracking app could be sharing intimate details with all of Facebook. By Arwa Mahdawi
Women’s health apps are again raising concerns of privacy as a new study finds some are sharing information without consent.
Surveillance is a feminist issue
When was the last time you had sex?
For most of us, that isn’t information we’d like to share with just anybody. However, if you’re using a period-tracking app, there’s a decent chance Facebook knows all about your sex life. A new study from Privacy International, a UK-based charity, has found that some menstruation apps have been sharing their users’ intimate details with the social network – including the last time you had unprotected intercourse. These apps include Maya (more than 5m downloads) and Period Tracker MIA Fem: Ovulation Calculator (over 2m users.)
This isn’t the first time women’s health apps have raised serious privacy concerns. Earlier this year, for example, it was reported that Activision Blizzard, a video game company, was encouraging its employees to use family-planning apps. These apps then shared user information with the company so it could keep track of how many of its employees were trying to get pregnant. And testing done by The Wall Street Journal in February found that Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker informed Facebook when a user was menstruating or intending to get pregnant. (It would seem, from Privacy International’s research, that Flo no longer does this.)
Privacy International’s research is yet another reminder that technology companies need to be doing a lot more work to stop user data being shared without explicit and informed consent. “Consent is not just about a box to check,” stresses Eva Blum-Dumonte, a researcher at Privacy International and author of the report. “It is about being able to understand what you consent to and being able to refuse.”
These latest revelations about period-tracking apps should also serve as a reminder that surveillance is a feminist issue. Patriarchy, after all, seeks to control and regulate women’s bodies; digital surveillance is a highly effective way of doing this. As Frederike Kaltheuner, who heads Privacy International’s work on corporate exploitation, notes: “While privacy invasions affect us all, they disproportionately affect and harm those who are already marginalized.”
Ms Monopoly: Hasbro gets into the gender empowerment game
Hot on the heels of releasing the much-panned Monopoly for Millennials and Monopoly for Socialists, Hasbro has come out with Ms Monopoly: “The first game where women make more than men.” Female players get more money than guys when passing Go and the mascot is a woman called Milburn Pennybags. A press release claims the game is supposed to celebrate women trailblazers; however it makes no mention of Lizzie Magie, the woman who invented Monopoly. At the turn of the 20th century Magie created the Landowner’s Game to teach people about the problems with capitalism. She then had her invention ripped off and monetized by a man: Charles Darrow. Hasbro has completely written her out of Monopoly’s creation story and insist on giving credit entirely to Darrow.
Justice for Iran’s ‘Blue Girl’
Women aren’t allowed to attend football games in Iran. This didn’t stop Sahar Khodayari, who tried to enter a football stadium in Tehran dressed as a man earlier this year. Khodayari, who has been nicknamed “Blue Girl” after her favourite team’s colours, was quickly arrested for “appearing in public without a hijab.” Last week, after appearing in court, Khodayari set herself on fire and died. Activists are now demanding Fifa do more to challenge Iran’s football ban.
Female migrants lack access to menstrual products
Lawmakers from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are demanding that America’s detention camps are properly stocked with sanitary products after reports that women are “visibly” bleeding through their clothes. Teenage girls are reportedly only given one sanitary pad a day. Meanwhile Ivanka Trump continues to ignore what her dad’s up to and bangs on about how she’s empowering women.
Afghan women want to be heard, not saved
Buzzfeed News has a good piece about how the US has cynically used the plight of Afghan women as an excuse for invading and remaining in Afghanistan. “We’re tired of the narratives of victimhood assigned to us as Afghan women and we will no longer accept others speaking for us,” one human rights campaigner said. “Afghan women resisted the Taliban long before the US got involved in Afghanistan, and continue to fight for our rights and spaces every day.”
New York City ending ban on gay conversion therapy
While this sounds bizarre, there’s a sensible reason for it. A right-wing group called the Alliance Defending Freedom (“Freedom” being shorthand for “bigotry”) has challenged a 2017 New York City measure banning the selling of “services intended to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity”. If the lawsuit goes all the way to the supreme court, which has become a lot more regressive of late, then a legal precedent could be set protecting the barbaric practice.
Women’s share of public-company board seats rises to 20%
That’s up from 19% last quarter, and 15% in late 2016. The increase is partly thanks to a recent California law which requires companies to put female directors on their boards or face fines. So far, “68% of the 94 public companies in the state with all-male boards when the law passed have added at least one woman”, the Wall Street Journal reports.