May 18, 2023 - Health

FTC alleges Premom fertility app shared sensitive health data

Illustration of a computer curson hovering over a wrapped panty liner.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The Federal Trade Commission has charged the developer of period tracking app Premom with deceiving users by sharing their health data with third parties, including Google and two China-based firms.

Why it matters: Legal protections for sensitive personal health data that can include information such as medications, mental health and pregnancy status have not kept up with the digital health sector's explosive growth.

Driving the news: The ruling is part of a concentrated recent effort by the FTC under activist chair Lina Khan to target a growing class of companies that are not subject to HIPAA yet nonetheless share and sell health data.

Details: According to the FTC, Premom shared users' reproductive health information and precise geolocation data with companies including Google and Alibaba subsidiary Umeng via tracking tools known as software development kits (SDKs).

  • That data sharing "led to the unauthorized disclosure of facts about an individual user’s sexual and reproductive health, parental and pregnancy status," per the agency, as well as users' social media account data, precise geolocation data, and information about users' mobile devices and Wi-Fi network identifiers, the FTC says.

What's happening: The FTC is fining Premom $100,000 in civil penalties.

  • If approved by the federal court, the order would bar Premom's parent company, Easy Healthcare Corporation, from sharing users' personal health data with third parties for advertising.
  • It would also require Premom to get user consent before sharing such data.

What they're saying: "Premom broke its promises and compromised consumers’ privacy," Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement.

Catch up quick: Wednesday's ruling follows similar actions against companies including period tracking app Flo, prescription discount startup GoodRx, and Teladoc mental health subsidiary BetterHelp.

Yes, and: Health privacy in the post-Roe digital age is fraught as prosecutors seeking to enforce anti-abortion laws are free to go after reproductive health data in mobile apps, where it is unprotected by federal law.

The bottom line: The FTC's moves directly challenge the way digital health companies operate and could significantly alter the future health tech landscape.

Kelly Tyko contributed to this story.

Go deeper