Femtech and Privacy in a post-Roe America

First, what’s femtech? A phrase coined by Danish author and entrepreneur Ida Tin in 2016, it’s technology that addresses the unmet health and biological needs of women. An economic forecast from Grand View Research estimates that femtech will be a $13.1 billion global market by 2030.

In The Dawn of the Femtech Revolution, McKinsey & Company describes femtech as technology-enabled, consumer-centric products and services that address issues including maternal health, menstrual health, pelvic and sexual health, fertility, menopause and contraception as well as health conditions that disproportionately impact women or affect women differently than men.

Now companies in this relatively new market, which is itself built on entrepreneurial and disruptive innovation, are working to quickly analyze implications in the aftermath of Dodd v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization – the June 24, 2022, decision that reversed a woman’s constitutional right to abortion established by Roe v. Wade in 1973.

Privacy Implications

Privacy experts are warning companies that collect femtech data, and the female users who provide it, of possible consequences in the post-Roe world. Fortune magazine and the Associated Press recently outlined some of the considerations for users.

  • Digital trails are long. Phone apps and browsers collect health information users provide while location apps, security cameras, license plate readers and facial recognition track individuals’ movements. Even if users believe they’ve opted out of app tracking, some apps continue to collect sensitive data.
  • Reproductive health information shared or obtained outside a medical setting is shielded neither by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act nor state consumer protection rules. Information shared with femtech apps such as menstrual cycle trackers, obtained by data brokers, or collected by unethical non-medical crisis pregnancy centers can be obtained by warrant, court order or subpoena.
  • Reproductive data is suddenly more valuable. Following the Supreme Court’s decision, data security is more important than ever. Cyberattacks to obtain reproductive data may increase and the aftermath of a data breach may endanger women whose private information is released.

For companies with a product or service that might be used to target people who seek reproductive health options or information, a consumer-centric privacy structure and good data practices will help protect user privacy and minimize potential harm.

  • Allow users to access services anonymously, as authentication and verification information may put users at risk.
  • Collect only the data necessary for the app or technology to function properly.
  • Avoid using behavioral tracking or location data without at least providing an opt-in mechanism for voluntary consent and an opt-out option that deletes user data and stops collecting it.
  • Reconsider your retention policy, deleting sensitive data – particularly IP addresses.
  • Create a role-based data access structure to ensure internal access to health data is provided only to those who require it.
  • Enable end-to-end message encryption and encrypt data in transit.
  • Restrict downstream sale and disclosure of data and carefully vet third-party partners with which your organization shares data (if any) and don’t share anything you don’t have to.
  • Look out for your users by challenge unlawful subpoenas and inform users when their data is being sought through legal action or state law enforcement.

The reversal of Roe v. Wade will impact almost every aspect of American society and business. Health care providers and companies of all kinds must work immediately to anticipate possible effects on their workforces, patients, technology platforms, benefits and operations.

Emotions are running high following the Supreme Court’s action, no matter where an individual or organization stands on the issue, and will not quickly subside. Organizations must also carefully craft their messages, communicate clearly and authentically, and anticipate and be prepared to respond to reactions or questions from their workforce and other stakeholders.

For help navigating this challenging time, reach out to Lovell’s communications experts for help articulating your voice and delivering effective internal and external messages to your audiences.