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ICO to probe fertility apps over data harvesting concerns

fertility data
Image credit: Hassel Stock / Shutterstock

The UK’s data watchdog has launched an investigation into female fertility apps following concerns over data harvesting and security.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) conducted a survey that found more than half (54%) of women using period-tracking and fertility apps were being served relevant targeted advertising after use.

Apps like these are used by women to know when they are most able to conceive, or simply to keep track of their menstrual cycle.

The ICO survey also found that the majority of women (59%) had concerns about the use of their data from these apps and 17% of women found the targeted adverts distressing.

The data regulator said it would further examine if women were at risk of data harvesting from fertility apps without being properly warned about how their information is used.

“These statistics suggest data security is a significant concern for women when it comes to choosing an app to track their periods or plan or prevent pregnancy. That’s not surprising, given the incredibly sensitive and personal information involved,” said Emily Keany, deputy commissioner of regulatory policy at the ICO.

“This review is intended to establish both the good and bad of how the apps are working currently. Once we have more information, we will explore next steps, but we will not hesitate to take regulatory action to protect the public if necessary.”

Smart devices in spotlight

The ICO yesterday issued a further data privacy warning concerning the use of smart devices.

Responding to a report from Which? that looked at the data tracking capabilities of popular smart speakers and smart TVs, the ICO’s executive director of regulatory risk, Stephen Almond said:

“People should be able to enjoy the benefits of using their connected devices without having excessive amounts of their personal data gathered. This simply isn’t a price we expect to pay.

“To maintain trust in these products companies must be transparent about the data they collect and how they use it and ensure that the data is not used or shared in ways that people would not expect.

Almond said the ICO is developing guidance on data protection within the internet of things (IoT) industry and said “we will act where we don’t see the rules being followed”.

In July, the ICO launched an investigation into Worldcoin, a cryptocurrency firm co-founded by OpenAI’s Sam Altman that scans human eyes for biometric data.

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