Women should beware of period apps

Yesterday, a UK court jailed a woman for taking abortion pills shortly after the UK limit during lockdown, when normal medical care was unavailable. There’s a great deal to be angry about here, not least the complete absence of the “protect women” crowd when it comes to protecting women’s reproductive rights. But there’s also a warning: if there’s any possibility that you might need an abortion at some point in your life, be very wary of what data you share with apps and websites.

One of the details of this particular case is that the English police, as the US police have also been known to do, used the woman’s digital footprint as evidence against her; in this case it was her search history and message history. In the US, social media and smartphone location histories have been used to target women travelling out of state for abortions. Women and non-binary people have been flagging up the potential dangers of cycle tracking apps for some time too.

We like to think that we’re more enlightened than the US, but we’re not: abortion in the UK is not decriminalised. And people seeking abortions can be betrayed by their digital footprint just as easily here as across the Atlantic.