Natural Cycles - Birth Control
Review date: Aug. 9, 2022
Natural Cycles is a Swedish-based birth control app that has the distinction of being the first FDA cleared app designed for contraceptive use to prevent pregnancy. The app also got FDA clearance to use temperature data from wearable devices like Oura Ring to help make predictions on when you might get pregnant.
Natural Cycles is an app that can track and collect a whole bunch of sensitive personal information like name, email, location, race, period data, and when a user is likely to be most fertile based on basal body temperature and an algorithm that "learns the patterns of your unique cycle." The app isn't free — it charges around $12.99 a month or $99 a year for a subscription — and they point out on their website their monthly subscription fee "helps protect you and your data." So, do they protect your and your very personal data? Well, the don't sell it, which is great. They do say they can share some personal information to improve their social media marketing -- which isn't too great. Though, they say they don't share "sensitive data" for this purposes, which makes us feel better. All in all, Natural Cycles isn't the worst data sharing fertility app we reviewed. It's not the best either.
What could happen if something goes wrong?
Are there things with Natural Cycles that worry us? Yes, a few. One, they do collect a whole bunch of personal, sensitive, and health related information on you. A whole bunch. Remember, once that data is out in the world, you have to trust that it will remain secure. And while Natural Cycles does state that they take strong security measures to protect this data, and we believe them on this, nothing ever shared on the internet is 100% secure.
Natural Cycles does say they can ask for consent to share personal data for research purposes. They say, "If we have your consent, we will use your User Data and other Personal Data that you may provide, in pseudonymized or anonymized form ... for scientific studies, scientific articles and other research purposes as may be disclosed when your Personal Data is collected." As long as consent is clearly asked for in these instances, we're OK with this too.
What's the worst that could happen with Natural Cycles. Well, hopefully not too much, although they do collect a whole bunch of very personal information. One thing to consider: when you're able to use your Apple Watch or other wearable device to connect with this app to track information about your cycle, remember, you'll have to worry about the privacy of that device as well as this app too. The more you share, the more you have to worry about that data leaking out into the world somehow.
Tips to protect yourself
- Add an App lock for your calendar if someone else might be using your phone/other device
- When you no longer use the app, go to "Delete account" in the app menu
- Chose a strong password! You may use a password control tool like 1Password, KeePass etc.
- Do not give access to your location in the app! When asked to provide location in the sign-up, first click 'Enable' and then chose 'Do not give location' in the drop down. Yes, very misleading!
- 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)
Can it snoop on me?
What can be used to sign up?
Google sign-up available
What data does the company collect?
Name, email address, location and date of birth
The temperature measurements you input each day and information you provide about the days you have had unprotected sex.
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?
No known privacy or security incidents discovered in the last 3 years.
Child Privacy Information
Can this product be used offline?
User-friendly privacy information?
There is a glossary with privacy terms, and also a separate privacy mission statement.
Links to privacy information
Does this product meet our Minimum Security Standards?
Users can send vulnerability reports to [email protected]
Natural Cycles uses an algorithm based on your daily body temperature readings and menstrual cycle information to work out the days of the month you're most and least likely to conceive.
Is this AI untrustworthy?
What kind of decisions does the AI make about you or for you?
The risk of unwanted pregnancy
Is the company transparent about how the AI works?
Does the user have control over the AI features?
Clinic reports Natural Cycles app for 37 unwanted pregnancies since SeptemberTechCrunch
FDA allows marketing of first direct-to-consumer app for contraceptive use to prevent pregnancyU.S. Food & Drug Administration
With Roe overturned, period-tracking apps raise new worriesThe Washington Post
Period Tracking, Abortions, and PrivacyMedium
The FDA approved an app to prevent pregnancy. Can an app do that?The Washington Post
Before Using Birth Control Apps, Consider Your PrivacyWired
Natural Cycles: ASA investigates marketing for contraception appThe Guardian
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