Data Privacy

Facebook, your sex life, and unintended consequences

Personal data can be used to do amazing things across multiple industries, providing the fuel that powers innovation and research.

In health, for example, one reasonably recent application is helping women track their menstrual cycle when they are trying to get pregnant.

Menstruation apps work by collecting highly sensitive data, from general health, to food and drink consumption, mood, symptoms, as well as how often, and when, users have sex.

In return, the app calculates when the user is most or least fertile, for example, or when she can expect her next period.

So far, so great – consented sharing of personal data with an app that is using it to deliver something the user wants. Fantastic. That’s what we’re all about here at digi.me

But there’s a snag in this model, and it’s a big one.

Research by Privacy International (PI) has found that many of these apps, with millions of user downloads,  such as Maya by Plackal Tech, MIA by Mobapp Development Limited  and My Period Tracker by Linchpin Health have been sharing this incredibly sensitive and detailed data with Facebook, via the social media giant’s software development kit (SDK).

What does this mean? Essentially, Facebook may well have been given details of your sex life if you or your partner use one of these apps, for example.

Many of the apps involved have now said that this sharing was unintentional, not designed to aid targeting, and will stop.

But it raises a wider issue – namely the lack of control we all have over personal data we create but don’t own.

Unintentional consequences – such as a social media platform knowing about the most private aspects of our private lives – are possible when such data is shared without our consent – even without our knowledge – whether deliberate or not.

But there is a solution. In fact, there is only one response that makes sense.

The only possible way forward is putting users back in control of their own data, in control of what is shared and with whom, and able to revoke consent at any time. This makes sense on many, many levels – but control and increased privacy are some of the biggest.

Enabling this brave new data future is our vision here at digi.me, and is something we are taking great strides in bringing to fruition.

The future is close – and if it involves our sex lives staying private in addition to all the other myriad benefits of more consented sharing of data, then so much the better.

 

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