Period tracking app says it will stop sharing health data with Facebook

Sheri Evans
February 24, 2019

A spokesperson for Flo, the period-tracking app, said in a statement it has already started an audit on data privacy that "will cover an exhaustive spectrum of all external analytical tools, not limited to Facebook Analytics". The Journal used software to monitor the internet communications triggered by using an app, including the information being sent to Facebook and other third parties.

Several phone apps are sending sensitive user data, including health information, to Facebook without users' consent, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. The news comes just weeks after Facebook was caught distributing a VPN app to teenagers that were paid to share all of their data.

The Journal said it tested more than 70 popular apps, and found at least 11 sent potentially sensitive user information to Facebook based on data that the consumers entered or how they behaved.

Code created by Facebook within the apps transmits the data as part of what's called a "custom app event", which the apps themselves can then use to target their users with ads on Facebook. Apple pulled Facebook's enterprise certifications as payback.

After a year of especially awful press, growing government scrutiny, and eroding public affection, Facebook is staring down yet another potential scandal involving sensitive user data. "The allegations in the Wall Street Journal are the latest in a long list of deeply troubling reports about the company's practices". But health information such as period cycles, heart rates and body weight fluctuations were all being shared in apps that were reviewed.

Transmitted the location and price of listings that a user viewed. The issue is how apps use information for online advertising. While the data is apparently anonymized in some cases, there are sometimes markers that could let Facebook match some of it to users.

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A Facebook spokesperson told CNBC, "Sharing information across apps on your iPhone or Android device is how mobile advertising works and is industry standard practice".

One of Flo's users, a woman who began using the app a year ago, told The Wall Street Journal she may delete the app over concerns about data privacy.

The company has also said that it is warning the apps identified by the Journal to stop sending sensitive user information and that it will take further action if the apps do not comply.

Facebook had also considered collecting health information in the past, when it asked major US hospitals to share anonymized data about their patients, as CNBC reported in April, though Facebook said the project had not moved past the planning stage at the time.

The governor said he was directing the Department of State, the Department of Financial Services and other state agencies to conduct an investigation.

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