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Image / Editorial

Is your boss tracking your pregnancy through an app?


by Colette Sexton
09th Jul 2019
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Pregnant woman in an office

Is your pregnancy app sharing your intimate data with your boss? Modern technology is great, but we also need to be cautious.

Modern technology has made life a lot easier. We can now order food, book hair appointments, do an exercise class and order our significant other’s birthday present, all with just a few clicks.

Alas, exactly what we are clicking on tells a lot about us, and while previously we worried about platforms and apps selling information about our buying and reading habits on to advertisers, it is about to get a lot more serious. 

Fertility apps

Many women use fertility apps these days to track their periods and their ovulation cycles for a myriad of reasons – they might have heavy periods, they might want to get pregnant, they might not want to get pregnant. Many of the apps are fun companions for the daunting uncertainties of childbirth, with expectant women check in daily to see, for instance, how their unborn babies’ size compares to different fruits.

But there was alarm in the US recently when it emerged that pregnancy-tracking app Ovia was giving some employers access to their employees’ data. The Washington Post discovered that employers who pay the apps’ developer, Ovia Health, were able to offer their workers a special version of the apps that relays their health data — in a “de-identified,” aggregated form — to an internal employer website accessible by the company. 

“If a small number of women were pregnant in a workplace at any given time, they could have been identified on the back of the information.”

Employers offering Ovia fertility, pregnancy and parenting apps were able to find out how many of their staff faced high-risk pregnancies or gave birth prematurely; the top medical questions they had researched; and how soon they planned to return to work.

Experts told the Washington Post that they were concerned that if a small number of women were pregnant in a workplace at any given time, they could have been identified on the back of the information shared by Ovia.

Others feared that companies could use the information to change the cost of health-care benefits, or scale them back.

Data breach

There was also the concern that there could be a data breach which might expose a woman’s private information – everything from what their cervical fluid was like to the days they were having sex.

These apps are incredibly convenient and they can help women to get pregnant. But there is a risk when you put these most intimate of details on the internet. As the Washington Post points out, women who use Ovia must consent to its 6,000-word “terms of use,” which grant the company a “royalty-free, perpetual, and irrevocable license, throughout the universe” to “utilize and exploit” their de-identified personal information for scientific research and “external and internal marketing purposes.”

The TOCs add: Ovia may also “sell, lease or lend aggregated Personal Information to third parties”.

Lightning speed

As the internet has grown at lightning speed over the past two decades, most of us have jumped on the bullet-train with it with little thought for our privacy. In the early days, many had ridiculous sounding email addresses, like [email protected], or instant messenger names that actually didn’t identify us. But quickly we moved on from that, sharing more and more of ourselves online. 

Now privacy is more to the fore in people’s mind. As technology continues to develop to the point that it is tracking our movement, our periods and our sleep, it might be time to dig out the old [email protected] alias again.

 


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