Why Deleting Your Period Tracker Won’t Protect Your Privacy

In May 1972, the Chicago police raided a high-rise apartment where a group called the Jane Collective was providing abortions. It was the year before the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision gave women the constitutional right to decide whether to give birth, and abortion was a criminal offense in Illinois.

Seven women were arrested, including two who had the names and addresses of patients on index cards in their purses. According to a history written by a member of the collective, “The Story of Jane,” the women destroyed the cards in the police van on the way to the station, tearing them into small pieces and eating some of them. They didn’t know what the police might do with the information, so they got rid of it.

Fifty years later, the Supreme Court has overturned the Roe decision. Abortions will be banned or seriously limited in much of the country. But now, thanks to the digital trails left behind in the modern technological age, it will be far harder to hide incriminating data about a decision to end a pregnancy.

When a draft of the court’s decision was first leaked in May, and then when the ruling became official last week, people focused on these digital trails, specifically the information that millions of women share about their menstrual cycles on period tracker apps. The knee-jerk advice was simple and direct: Delete them all. immediately.

“Delete those fertility apps now,” tweeted Gina Neff, a sociologist and director of the Minderoo Center for Technology and Democracy at the University of Cambridge. In an interview over Zoom, Dr. Neff said the apps contained “powerful information about reproductive choices that’s now a threat.”

These apps allow users to record the dates of their menstrual cycles and get predictions about when they

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