The Rise of Femtech and Data Privacy Issues

Updated: Nov 7

Shubhangi Gehlot, (Law student at Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Gujarat)

Besides, liberation and revolution in social taboos surrounding menstruation with menstrual paid leaves, Femtech is also playing an inseparable role in women’s daily life. With busy schedules and hectic work life, apps tracking menstrual cycles serve as a messiah. With technological advancements and personal data sharing, the misuse of such data is always an issue. The technology of Femtech is not limited to only one cause, rather it's a whole new emerging and developing amalgamated category of female healthcare.


But what happens when the technology serves better to the Femcare i.e., the market for menstrual products such as pads, cups, tampons, etc., rather than the user's data privacy and security. The consumer’s healthcare data is revealed to the Femcare market in order to grow together in a very competitive capitalist market. For instance, you will be served with ads of a variety of products concerning menstruation and menstrual hygiene around your date of the period which is regularly tracked by the app. Besides sharing healthcare data, age and medical conditions are also one of the personal information being shared without consent or using unclear terms and conditions. This is evident with the platform of Elvie Trainer, where there is no option to deny consent over providing personal information including the user’s name, contact details, location etc. In addition, their Privacy policy under the Terms and Conditions declares inability to provide help on lack of certain mandatory Personal information being asked.


According to a study, these applications were credited as the fourth most accepted applications among females who are adults and second most demanded among adolescent females. One such popular app in India and other parts of the world is Flo, which faced a lawsuit and was accused of selling users’ data to tech giants. The complaint was filed by the Federal Trade Commission of the U.S, accusing the company of sending users’ personal information like period and pregnancy to analytics divisions of Google, Facebook, etc. Though Flo accepted the allegations to be true but denied the accusations of sharing the name, address, or birthday with the social media divisions of these tech giants.


With increasing women-centric startups in India, Femtech is estimated to have a market worth $310 million. Besides, more than 83% of funds are in the female healthcare startups inclusive of the Femtech space.


With all this data and popularity, there is no exclusive mention of such apps under India's National Digital Health Mission (NDHM). This is a Government initiative of digitalization and standardization of the healthcare system. It still lacks a clear impact on apps solely based on women’s reproductive and menstrual health. In addition, due to the poor public health system, there are high chances of less reliability and trust of women on NDHM compared to private players on the market.


Even the statutory provision of Rule 4 under the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules 2011 of the IT Act, 2000 is vague enough for Femtech companies to misuse it. Though the rule provides certain conditions where the company can collect, store and process data, it still lacks stringency towards the protection of users’ private information. This can be achieved by the new Personal Data Protection Bill which is similar to the EU Data Protection guidelines.


With the introduction of this new bill, the area of an individual's “health data” is also put forward under Section 3(21). This includes their past, present, and future whether physical or mental in nature. Its implementation with other known laws such as Digital Information Security in Healthcare Act (DISHA) can proclaim and execute health data privacy, data anonymity and confidentiality. Moreover, the Act would regulate the lawful processing and storage of data by different entities.


Furthermore, reports have also confirmed that most of these menstrual cycle tracking apps are unreliable and deceptive in their core function. Besides, the privacy and security of the personal information of the users persist to be violated easily when shared with third parties on a regular basis by these mobile apps. Such health apps and their companies are continuously selling data to sponsors or third parties under the pretence of “corporate wellbeing”. India can overcome this situation with the new bill but the question persists, whether femtech and women’s health ever be unambiguously accepted under the ambit of healthcare technologies?

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