The Apple Watch still reigns supreme in the world of smart watches. You've got all your email, text, phone calls, music, podcasts, and more right there on your wrist (as long as you have an iPhone, of course). And it tracks lots of health data. There's heart rate, sleep tracking, steps, calories, blood oxygen levels, ECG, fall detection, and more. Apple has a pretty good track record of taking all this very personal data and keeping it safe, which we appreciate.
Update: In June 2022, after Roe vs Wade was overturned allowing US states to make access to abortion illegal, we took another look at the privacy and security of the Apple Watch as a device that can track menstrual cycle and reproductive health data. Our updated review is below. Overall, Apple does a pretty good job of protecting their users privacy and security and has a pretty good history as standing up to law enforcement requests for their users' data.
What could happen if something goes wrong?
Apple does a pretty good job with privacy and security as a company. They say they don't share your data for their own advertisement purposes and Apple takes special care to make sure your Siri requests aren't associated with you, which is great. Apple did face backlash in 2019 when it came to light their contractors were regularly listening in on confidential personal conversations when they were reviewing the voice assistant's recordings. Apple changed their policy so users weren't automatically opted-in to human voice review. Recently, Apple made another positive change for your Siri voice requests — many audio requests for things like setting timers or alarms or controlling music will no longer be sent over the internet to their servers, instead processing them directly on the device. This is better for your privacy.
This device does track a whole bunch of biometric data including your heart rate, blood oxygen levels, menstrual cycle, hearing, breathing, and your heart's electrical signals. That's a lot of personal information gathered in one place. A reminder, it’s always good to lock down the privacy on all this data as much as possible.
What is not good is what can happen with all this very personal health data if others aren't careful. A recent report showed that health data for over 61 million fitness tracker users, including both Fitbit and Apple, was exposed when a third party company that allowed users to sync their health data from their fitness trackers did not secure the data properly. Personal information such as names, birthdates, weight, height, gender, and geographical location for Apple and other fitness tracker users was left exposed because the company didn't password protect or encrypt their database. This is a great reminder that yes, while Apple might do a good job with their own security, anytime you sync or share that data with anyone else, it could be vulnerable. I don't know about you, but I don't need the world to know my weight and where I live. That’s really dang creepy.
Update, August 2022 following the overturn of Roe vs Wade protection reproductive health rights in the United States.
Apple does do a pretty good job with privacy, so that's good when it comes to using the Apple Health app for period and reproductive health tracking. And if users take the steps Apple recommends to protect this data, it should be fairly safe out there on the Cloud. Apple says, "
When your phone is locked with a passcode, Touch ID or Face ID, all of your health and fitness data in the Health app, other than your Medical ID, is encrypted. Any health data synced to iCloud is encrypted both in transit and on our servers. And if you have a recent version of watchOS and iOS with the default two-factor authentication and a passcode, your health and activity data will be stored in a way that’s unreadable to Apple." So lock those phones down, set up two-factor authentication, disable iCloud sharing of Apple Health data, and don't share any of those passcodes with anyone, ever.
And given Apple Health data can be synced with lots of third-party apps and companies, well, don't do that. The more you share this data, the more likely it can be that it will be vulnerable. Limit that sharing as much as you can!
So, while using an Apple Watch and Apple Health to track your period might be safer than other options, it's good to remember, it's still far from perfect and you should take all the precautions possible to protect your data and only share what you'd feel safe being on the internet.
Tips to protect yourself
- Follow Apple's advice on how to secure Health data.
- Restrict the amount of personal information like heart rate data that is shared by going to the Apple Watch app on your iPhone under Privacy > Health
- Use your device privacy controls to limit access to your personal information via app (do not give access to your camera, microphone, images and videos).
- Keep your app regularly updated.
- Limit ad tracking via your device (eg on iPhone go to Privacy -> Advertising -> Limit ad tracking) and biggest ad networks (for Google, go to Google account and turn off ad personalization).
- If you no longer use your Apple Watch or give it to someone else, consider erasing your data. Open the Settings app on your Apple Watch. Go to General > Reset, tap Erase All Content and Settings, then enter your passcode.
What can be used to sign up?
What data does the company collect?
Name, contact information, address
Heart rate, movement, blood oxygen levels, sleep data, voice recordings if you use voice commands
How does the company use this data?
How can you control your data?
What is the company’s known track record of protecting users’ data?
In 2021, Apple had a recent serious spyware security vulnerability called Pegaus that infected iPhones and other Apple devices.
In 2021, a major data leak was reported of 61 million fitness tracker data records, including Apple's Healthkit data, by the third party company GetHealth. In September 2021, a group of security researchers discovered GetHealth had an unsecured database containing over 61 million records related to wearable technology and fitness services. GetHealth accessed health data belonging to wearable device users around the world and leaked it in an non-password protected, unencrypted database. The list contained names, birthdates, weight, height, gender, and geographical location, as well as other medical data, such as blood pressure.
Child Privacy Information
Can this product be used offline?
User-friendly privacy information?
Links to privacy information
Does this product meet our Minimum Security Standards?
Apple has a bug bounty program, which means that anyone who finds a security issue and discloses it responsibly may get paid.
Some of Apple's AI research can be found at https://machinelearning.apple.com/.
Is this AI untrustworthy?
What kind of decisions does the AI make about you or for you?
Is the company transparent about how the AI works?
Does the user have control over the AI features?
61M Fitbit, Apple Users Had Data Exposed in Wearable Device Data BreachHealth IT Security
Apple warns of security flaws in iPhones, iPads and MacsNPR
Apple and Meta Gave User Data to Hackers Who Used Forged Legal RequestsBloomberg
Security News This Week: Fake Cops Scammed Apple and Meta to Get User DataWired
Apple Issues Emergency Security Updates to Close a Spyware FlawThe New York Times
Improving Siri’s privacy protectionsApple
Apple resumes human reviews of Siri audioAssociated Press
Apple apologises for allowing workers to listen to Siri recordingsThe Guardian
Apple’s AI plan: a thousand small conveniencesThe Verge
Apple vs. Feds: Is iPhone Privacy a Basic Human Right?Harvard Business School Working Knowledge
How can US law enforcement agencies access your data? Let’s count the waysThe Guardian
How to ensure Apple Health cycle tracking data stays privateAppleInsider
Should You Worry About Data From Your Period-Tracking App Being Used Against You?Kaiser Health News
Period tracking apps could see their data legally protected; how to secure yours9to5Mac
Got a comment? Let us hear it.