Period-tracking apps can be incredibly convenient. Doctors often ask patients when their last period started and ended—dates that are easy to forget. With period apps, you can add a quick entry into your phone, take note of any symptoms you're feeling, and have all relevant info on-hand when your doctor asks.
Although period apps are designed to be convenient, most aren't designed with women's health in mind. According to Vox's Kaitlyn Tiffany, an estimated $1 billion was invested into women's health technology between 2015 and 2018. "This has nothing to do with the tech industry becoming pro-woman," Tiffany writes. Instead, the apps reflect opportunists capitalizing on a need, all the while not sufficiently filling it.
This app wasn’t designed for me. It wasn’t designed for anyone who wants to track their period or general reproductive health. The same is true of almost every menstruation-tracking app: They’re designed for marketers, for men, for hypothetical unborn children, and perhaps weirdest of all, a kind of voluntary surveillance stance.
According to Tiffany, period apps only contribute to the commercialization of pregnancy and nothing more:
The data they generate can also be shared with developers, advertisers, researchers, and data brokers. Patient Privacy Rights founder Deborah Peel told the Washington Post in 2016 that reproductive health data is uniquely valuable to marketers — knowing that someone is preparing to become a parent means knowing that someone is about to enter one of the very few life stages in which they’re likely to get “hooked on new brands.”
But glitches and questionable motives aside, many women turn to period apps to track their fertility and monitor their mensural symptoms. If these apps can help women understand their bodies, track changes over time, and make them feel secure, the apps have value.
But how helpful can a period-tracking app be if it fails to understand things like a pregnancy leading to nine months without a period? Vox's Tiffany doubles down on period apps' limited capacity:
“The design of these tools often doesn’t acknowledge the full range of women’s needs. There are strong assumptions built into their design that can marginalize a lot of women’s sexual health experiences,” Karen Levy, an assistant professor of information science at Cornell University, tells me in an email, after explaining that her period tracker couldn’t understand her pregnancy, “a several-hundred-day menstrual cycle.”