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Dive Brief:

  • Period tracking app Flo has rolled out an anonymous mode to protect users’ sensitive reproductive health data months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
  • The company, which has dominant market share with 48 million monthly users and has faced regulatory scrutiny over privacy in the past, pledged to release the mode shortly after the court’s decision.
  • 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.

Dive Insight:

The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturned decades of precedent and threw the nation’s healthcare system into chaos. The ruling gave rise to a patchwork system of reproductive health access in the U.S., and concerns among pro-abortion activists and privacy advocates that states could use data from period tracking and other reproductive health apps against patients seeking abortion services.

In the wake of the decision, a number of popular women’s health apps pledged to enhance their privacy and security protocols, including Flo. The U.K.-based women’s health app launched its anonymous mode Wednesday for all iOS users. The company said Android users will get access next month.

To secure patients’ data, Flo partnered with security firm Cloudflare to integrate a system ensuring no single party that processes user data for anonymous mode accounts has complete information on who the user is or what they’re trying to access. That’s on top of steps Flo has already taken, including encrypting all data and passcode protection to lower risk of unauthorized app access, the company said.

“Women’s health information shouldn’t be a liability,” Cath Everett, VP of product and content at Flo, said in a statement. “Now, more than ever, women deserve to access, track, and gain insight into their personal health information without fearing government prosecution.”

The company doesn’t have a spotless track record when it comes to keeping user data in-house. 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 Flo shared sensitive health data from millions of users with marketing and analytics firms including Google and Facebook.

Flo is offering anonymous mode as an option and not as a default because there are some downsides to the setting. Once anonymous mode is activated, users won’t be able to recover their data if their device is lost or stolen, and it may limit personalization benefits, the company said.

Democrats in Washington have been taking a harsher line on data privacy in a post-Roe world.

In July, the House Oversight Committee began investigating how the business practices of reproductive health apps and data brokers could potentially weaponize consumers’ private information, and the FTC 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 like reproductive health clinics.

But advocates say the administration could be doing more. On Tuesday, dozens of Democrat senators asked the HHS to safeguard women’s privacy through the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, by restricting providers from sharing patients’ reproductive health information without their explicit consent. However, it’s unclear how much the administration could lean on HIPAA to protect abortion data without congressional action.

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