Medical app told Facebook when users were on their periods, investigation finds

A woman holds a pregnancy test in front of her unclothed stomach

A woman holds a pregnancy test in front of her unclothed stomach

The apps included the period-tracking app Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker, which reportedly shared with Facebook when users were having their periods or when they indicated they were trying to get pregnant. Facebook's SDK includes an analytics service that helps app developers understand its users' trends. The top heart-rate app for iOS, Instant Heart Rate sent users' heart rates to Facebook.

A news report Friday said many smartphone apps were sending highly personal information such as menstrual cycles and body weight to Facebook, without notifying users.

Using software that monitors internet communications, the Journal found that out of 70 popular apps that handle sensitive information and are available in Apple's app store, 11 sent Facebook information about their users, such as information users entered or data the app collected about the users' behavior. The company will also be conducting a privacy audit, it said. Using App Events allows for more targeted ads.

According to Facebook, its developer policies prohibit developers from sharing health data with the social network, a spokesperson said in a statement.

The report highlights that none of these apps provided users any apparent way to stop that information from being sent to the social media giant.

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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. We also take steps to detect and remove data that should not be shared with us".

Yet despite Facebook's rules, Flo was not an isolated case, according to The Wall Street Journal's investigation. It instructs developers not to share "health, financial information or other categories of sensitive information" with it. The issue is how apps use information for online advertising.

The extremely personal nature of period tracking apps makes this type of data sharing all the more alarming. In late January Cuomo along with New York Attorney General Letitia James announced an investigation into Apple Inc's failure to warn consumers about a FaceTime bug that had let iPhones users listen to conversations of others who have not yet accepted a video call.

Flo Health said in an emailed statement that using analytical systems is a "common practice" for all app developers and that it uses Facebook analytics for "internal analytics purposes only". Flo's privacy policy was updated February 19, according to its website. Whatever happens, this is yet another timely reminder that the data you share with app developers can resurface in uncomfortable ways.

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