None of Their Business

How to Choose a Private Cycle Tracking App

One of the easiest and most practical ways to track your menstruation and related health indicators is a cycle tracking app (also known as period trackers or fertility tracking apps). They allow you to keep track of many intimate facts about you such as eating, sleep, mental health, sexual activity, contraceptive methods, and your fertility choices.

With all these tracking options, the companies behind the apps know a lot about you, but what do they tell you about how the apps function and what do they do with this data?

As you learned in “Cycles of Influence”, there are many different ways to track your cycle safely. In this article, we focus on cycle tracking apps: what are they and what can you do to use them while keeping your data as safe as possible?

Let’s soak up some knowledge!


What Are Cycle Tracking Apps?

Cycle tracking apps are developed to track your cycle as well as any related health indicators. These apps are similar to other self-tracking apps that allow you to record sleeping habits, nutrition, fitness, and other general health indicators, such as heart rate or blood oxygen levels.

Cycle tracking apps come in a wide range of varieties: some focus on pregnancy (either as a fertility app and ovulation tracker or as a contraceptive method), others center overall reproductive and sexual health. What most have in common is that they gather a lot of intimate data about you without adequate data security or privacy. Moreover, many apps share this data with advertisers and monetize it in different ways. If you want to find out more about this, check out The Glass Room’s “The Many Hands on Your Intimate Data” video and poster.

Get Intimate with Your App!

If you already use a cycle tracker, take a look at their Terms of Service to find out how the app defines its purpose and function. If you’re not using one, let’s take Clue as example—a very popular cycle tracking app that advertises how careful it is about users’ privacy. Go to Clue’s Terms of Service, which you can find archived on the Internet Archive (October 2, 2022).

Did you manage to find the section where Clue talks about their purpose? If not, you can flip the card to see it.

Did you manage to find the section where Clue talks about their purpose? If not, you can flip the card to see it.

“3.1. The Clue Services are not intended to provide medical advice. For medical advice that addresses your specific, individual needs, please always consult a qualified healthcare professional.”

Apps, like Clue, do not need to follow the strict data protection rules for health information that doctors and health-care professionals abide by because, simply said, cycle tracking apps are not medical technology. Think of them as productivity apps that happen to track data about your health. Cycle tracking apps are also mostly not tested or approved by health or governmental agencies which would ensure that apps are up to medical standards.

Now, let’s take a look at the Privacy Policy of period apps to see how safe your personal information is with this app or if they share it with others. Go to the Privacy Policy of your app—or Clue’s, which you can find again on the Internet Archive. Have you found out if your app shares your data with others? If not, flip the card below to reveal with whom Clue shares data.

Now, let’s take a look at the Privacy Policy of period apps to see how safe your personal information is with this app or if they share it with others. Go to the Privacy Policy of your app—or Clue’s, which you can find again on the Internet Archive. Have you found out if your app shares your data with others? If not, flip the card below to reveal with whom Clue shares data.

“iv. To effectively reach new Clue users online, we do share a minimal amount of data about our users with advertising networks”

As you can see from this exercise, period trackers do not ensure that the information you input remains private, meaning only accessible by you. Instead they share it with third parties and sometimes Google Analytics or Facebook. So apps share details about your inner workings with others, but what do they share with you about how the app works?

Did you know that most apps …

  • do not explain how they calculate your ovulation window, so they might not be useful for you if you are trying to prevent or achieve pregnancy.
  • do not explain how the data from tracking things like stress, taking hormones or other factors influence how they calculate your cycle length.
  • do not allow you to transfer your data to another app once you’ve settled on one, so picking a good one from the start is important.

In a 2019 study, Privacy International found that two of the five apps they investigated shared intimate user information with Facebook even before users agreed to any Terms of Service. This raises serious privacy concerns. The app also shared users’ cycle-related tracking information with Facebook: mood, feelings, and health symptoms. This kind of information is key for data brokers who develop user profiles that are used in the advertising and political influence industry (learn more by visiting The Influence Industry Project).

Privacy Criteria for Cycle Trackers

Apps cannot legally promise to keep your data private. When you agree to an app’s Terms of Service agreement, it might say that the data is kept safe and will not be sold, but these agreements can be changed by companies at any point and data that you thought was private might be shared with third parties, research institutes, or even governments. The only way to prevent this is to use an app that encrypts your data, so the company itself cannot access your data to share it.

There are four important factors you should look for in an app when you decide to use one. We’ve addressed them in our “Cycles of Influence” article, but let’s revisit them again:

  • Data storage: data should be stored locally and encrypted
  • The app should not share information with third parties or law enforcement
  • It should be easy and quick to delete your data from the app
  • The app should not track your location or other unnecessary background information (camera, microphone, etc)

Alternative Apps for Cycle Tracking

Here are a few examples of cycle tracking apps that—at the time of writing in October 2022—encrypt your data and store it locally on your phone, do not require unnecessary background information, have pass codes, and make it easier to delete your data. Nevertheless, recommending apps is always tricky. (Click here to read “Technology is stupid: how to choose tech for remote working” to learn more).

The Data Detox guide named “Declutter your Phone with an App Cleanse”, can also be helpful if you’re in the process of getting rid of unnecessary apps.

Euki

Euki is an app focused on sexual and reproductive health created by Women Help Women, an international non-profit organization working towards reproductive freedom. Euki collects no data about you. All data are stored locally on your phone (albeit not encrypted) and you can add a password. Additionally, you can set up an interval for data deletion.

The app also has a nifty feature to further protect your privacy, in case someone tries to make you reveal your cycle tracking data. If you enter “0000” as passcode, the app will show a different page instead of your data.

You can download Euki on iOS or Android in English and Spanish.

 

Drip

This app is developed by a Hacking Collective based in Berlin. They are funded by public institutions and are not a commercial entity. The app developers do not collect any of your tracking data which is encrypted and stored locally. The app is also password protected.

You can download Drip for iOS and Android.

 

Read Your Body

This app is developed by the non-profit The Body Literacy Collective for people seeking to chart their menstrual cycle using the fertility awareness method (Read this article to find out more about this method). All data related to your cycle are stored on your phone and any back ups you chose to make are encrypted.

You can download Read Your Body on iOS and Android.

 

Pow!

This app, developed by a family business in Norway, is a digital cycle journal and only offers monthly or annual subscription offers, but no free version. It offers a lot of flexibility to track your cycle in your own words and also encrypts your data.

You can start using Pow! at this link.

Your Cycle is Yours. Period!

In this Data Detox guide you have learned what makes using an app a safe option for cycle tracking. Let’s take another look at the most important factors:

  • Your data is stored safely and securely. This means your information should be encrypted, stored locally and password protected.
  • The data should not be shareable with Third Parties or law enforcement.
  • It’s easy and quick to delete your information.
  • No unnecessary data is tracked without your knowledge.

If you’re interested in using an alternative to apps to track your cycle, check out the article “Cycles of Influence: Decide Who Knows Your Body.”


Written by Stefanie Felsberger in October 2022. Thanks to Cassie Cladis, Safa Ghnaim, Christy Lange, and Lieke Ploeger for their comments and reviews.

Last updated on: 11/16/2022