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A “data buffet”: Mozilla’s review of pregnancy and period trackers sheds light on data privacy concerns

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A “data buffet”: Mozilla’s review of pregnancy and period trackers sheds light on data privacy concerns

Amid growing concerns about how data might be used to prosecute women looking for abortion care following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, a new report from Mozilla shows just how many ways pregnancy and period trackers collect and share advertising-related data and other info that also might be shared with law enforcement.

According to a review of 25 period and pregnancy tracking apps and devices conducted by Mozilla, researchers determined that 18 did not meet expectations for privacy and security standards. Instead, they found a “data buffet” of phone numbers, addresses, device IDs, IP addresses, unique advertising IDs—such as Apple’s IDFA and Android’s Google Advertising ID—along with sensitive info about menstrual cycles, sexual activity, doctor appointments and pregnancy symptoms. The report, released on Wednesday, also described how companies collect and share data for personalizing ads while most apps didn’t offer clear policies about sharing data with law enforcement.

“It’s the tip of the iceberg,” said Jen Caltrider, lead researcher for Mozilla’s Privacy Not Included initiative. “Literally everything can be used to track somebody seeking reproductive health care now … When abortion was illegal 50-something years ago, the internet didn’t exist. Now, literally, our whole lives online are being tracked and exist in the cloud. Yes, these raise concerns, but so many things raise concerns right now.”

The findings come as part of Mozilla’s “Privacy Not Included” initiative, which aims to help consumers make more data-conscious decisions when choosing various products and services by giving warning labels to apps they might want to think twice about using. For years, the Mozilla Foundation has focused on educating people about privacy issues while also using the topic as a differentiator for its Firefox browser. The new report also provides detailed explainers about each app’s policies and practices while offering tips for how users can better protect themselves by changing a variety of preferences.

As Roe v. Wade was being overturned, Mozilla’s team decided it should also look at period and pregnancy tracking apps, especially in a world where abortion is becoming illegal in some states. The report follows a similar review of mental health apps in May during Mental Health Month, which Caltrider said also revealed “horrible” examples of data collection and sharing.

Although federal law regulates personal health data in the context of health care providers, it doesn’t protect health data in the context of apps; The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was enacted in 1996, just over a decade before the first iPhone was released. However, growing awareness and concern about how sensitive data could be used against women has made passing a federal data privacy law an even higher priority. The topic has also been part of discussions for the American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA), which last month reached a major milestone in Congress by moving past the committee stage.

“I think there’s been so much heightened awareness of the privacy risks associated with sharing health data since the Dobbs decision came down,” said Caitlin Fennessy, vp and chief knowledge officer at the International Association of Privacy Professionals. “It did add impetus to the ADPPA and we saw a focus on how it addresses sensitive data and the extent to which that would bring in protections for individuals.”

Some apps’ privacy policies are not short. For Ovia Health—which shows ads and sponsored content in the free version—Mozilla points out that the privacy policy is 34 pages long and nearly 12,000 words but claims the app will only use an ad profile for those who opt-in. However, Mozilla points out that Ovia lets Facebook collect device information, which “may use that data to personalize advertising” both on and off Facebook—even if a person isn’t logged into the social network through Ovia.

Some apps including Clue, The Bump and WebMD Pregnancy collect or share data with third parties for advertising, marketing and research, while others including Baby Center also share info with data brokers and social networks. In the case of What To Expect—an app owned by Everyday Health, which also owns the Baby Center app—Mozilla says it collects info from vendors, third parties and public databases and “may sell or transfer” data to advertisers for serving relevant ads. Researchers also pointed out that the My Calendar Period Tracker app shares information with Amazon; they couldn’t even find a privacy policy to review for another app called Sprout.

Some apps have already faced legal and regulatory scrutiny. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission settled a case against Flo Health after the app shared user data with marketing analytics firms including Facebook and Google after promising to keep information private. Meanwhile, a class action lawsuit filed last year alleged Flo secretly collected data about users’ pregnancy attempts that was then shared with third-party companies. (The same lawyers also filed a separate lawsuit against Meta last month alleging the platform showed personalized ads based on existing health issues.)

Most of the apps flagged by Mozilla did not respond to Digiday when asked for a response about the findings. However, a spokesperson for Flo said in an email that the company doesn’t share health data externally and that making revenue from user data “would go against our core promise to our users.” (The spokesperson also noted Flo completed an “external, independent” privacy audit in March and announced a new “Anonymous Mode” in late June that will let users remove identifiers from their profiles.)

In other emailed responses, a Clue spokesperson provided links to May and July blog posts about privacy written by Clue’s co-CEOs while a Sprout spokesperson said Mozilla “incorrectly stated the app does not have a Privacy Policy” and that Apple and Google require all apps to have a privacy policy.

“Our Sprout Pregnancy app has always been privacy-focused and is one of the only pregnancy apps on the market that does not require an account to use the app (no username or password),” the Sprout spokesperson wrote. “And the app data is only backed up to the user’s personal iCloud or Google Drive account.”

According to Mozilla, others such as Period Tracker don’t give advertisers access to period info or other data that users put directly into the app, but still share data such as unique advertising IDs. Mozilla also points out that Glow Nurture & Glow Baby’s info in the Google Play store claims the company doesn’t share data with third parties, but the actual privacy policy says it shares data with a number of third-party advertisers. With Wachanga, a pregnancy tracker, the company’s website says it works with third-party advertising companies, which “may use general information about your visits to the Website, Wachanga Apps and Services as well as other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you.”

In the case of Maya, the period tracker claims it won’t share identifiable information but does share “anonymized” information with advertisers. But Mozilla also noted a Privacy International report in 2019 that found Maya was sharing sensitive info with Facebook including mood and sexual activity. Other apps’ ad capabilities seem more limited. For example, with Philips Digital-owned Pregnancy+ app, Mozilla noticed that the app encourages people to choose the “Gold” version for customized features including personalized advertising.

Mozilla isn’t the first organization to review pregnancy and period app privacy policies. Last month, the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps (ORCHA)—an independent organization in the U.K. that reviews health care apps for government agencies—found that 84% of the 25 trackers and 24 app developers it reviewed shared data with third parties. While 68% shared data for marketing purposes such as contact lists, just 40% did so for research or to improve the app.

Alessandro Acquisti, professor of information technology and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, described Mozilla’s findings as “a perfect example of how pervasive and yet insidious the costs of [losing] privacy can be.” That’s because personal information and the value of data changes depending on the context.

“Losing one’s privacy therefore may mean as little as being served online ads you find intrusive, or as much as losing your reproductive rights,” Acquisti said via email. “In fact, the costs of losing privacy can be so diverse that they are hard to anticipate until they eventually materialize. This makes it difficult for all of us to fully realize the value of privacy ex ante.”

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FIFA 23 lets you turn off commentary pointing out how bad you are

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FIFA 23 lets you turn off commentary pointing out how bad you are
A player shouldering the ball



(Image credit: EA)

FIFA 23 might be the best game soccer game yet for terrible sports fans, as it lets you turn off commentary that criticizes your bad playing.

Now that the early access FIFA 23 release time has passed, EA Play and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers can hop into the game ahead of its full release. But as Eurogamer (opens in new tab) spotted, they’ll find a peculiar option waiting for them.

FIFA 23 includes a toggle to turn off ‘Critical Commentary’. The setting lets you silence all negative in-match comments made about your technique, so you can protect your precious ego even when you miss an open goal or commit an obvious foul. The more positive commentary won’t be affected. 

Spare your feelings

A player dribbling the ball in FIFA 23

(Image credit: EA)

The feature looks tailored toward children and new players, who don’t want to have their confidence wrecked within mere minutes of picking up the controller. But even experienced players who just so happen to be terrible at the game might benefit.

It’s not perfect, though. According to Eurogamer, the feature didn’t seem to work during a FIFA Ultimate Team Division Rivals match, with critical comments slipping through the filter. Still, who hasn’t benefited from a light grilling every now and then?

Polite commentary isn’t the only new addition in FIFA 23. It’s the first game in the series to include women’s club football teams, and fancy overhauled animations that take advantage of the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S’s new-gen hardware. EA will be hoping to end on a high, as FIFA 23 will be the last of its soccer games to release with the official FIFA licence.

If disabling critical commentary doesn’t improve your soccer skills, maybe building a squad of Marvel superheroes will. Although you might not do much better with Ted Lasso wandering the pitch.

FIFA 23 is set to fully release this Friday, September 30.

Callum is TechRadar Gaming’s News Writer. You’ll find him whipping up stories about all the latest happenings in the gaming world, as well as penning the odd feature and review. Before coming to TechRadar, he wrote freelance for various sites, including Clash, The Telegraph, and Gamesindustry.biz, and worked as a Staff Writer at Wargamer. Strategy games and RPGs are his bread and butter, but he’ll eat anything that spins a captivating narrative. He also loves tabletop games, and will happily chew your ear off about TTRPGs and board games. 

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Google Pixel 7 price leak suggests Google is totally out of touch

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Google Pixel 7 price leak suggests Google is totally out of touch
The backs of the Pixel 7 and the Pixel 7 Pro



(Image credit: Google)

We’re starting to hear more and more Google Pixel 7 leaks, with the launch of the phone just a week away, but tech fans might be getting a lot of déjà vu, with the leaks all listing near-identical specs to what we heard about the Pixel 6 a year ago.

It sounds like the new phones – a successor to the Pixel 6 Pro is also expected – could be very similar to their 2021 predecessors. And a new price leak has suggested that the phones’ costs could be the same too, as a Twitter user spotted the Pixel 7 briefly listed on Amazon (before being promptly taken down, of course).

Google pixel 7 on Amazon US. $599.99.It is still showing up in search cache but the listing gives an error if you click on it. We have the B0 number to keep track of though!#teampixel pic.twitter.com/w5Z09D28YESeptember 27, 2022

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According to these listings, the Pixel 7 will cost $599 while the Pixel 7 Pro will cost $899, both of which are identical to the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro starting prices. The leak doesn’t include any other region prices, but in the UK the current models cost £599 and £849, while in Australia they went for AU$999 and AU$1,299.

So it sounds like Google is planning on retaining the same prices for its new phones as it sold the old ones for, a move which doesn’t make much sense.


Analysis: same price, new world

Google’s choice to keep the same price points is a little curious when you consider that the specs leaks suggest these phones are virtually unchanged from their predecessors. You’re buying year-old tech for the same price as before.

Do bear in mind that the price of tech generally lowers over time, so you can readily pick up a cheaper Pixel 6 or 6 Pro right now, and after the launch of the new ones, the older models will very likely get even cheaper.

But there’s another key factor to consider in the price: $599 might be the same number in 2022 as it was in 2021, but with the changing global climate, like wars and flailing currencies and cost of living crises, it’s a very different amount of money.

Some people just won’t be willing to shell out the amount this year, that they may have been able to last year. But this speaks to a wider issue in consumer tech.

Google isn’t the only tech company to completely neglect the challenging global climate when pricing its gadgets: Samsung is still releasing super-pricey folding phones, and the iPhone 14 is, for some incomprehensible reason, even pricier than the iPhone 13 in some regions. 

Too few brands are actually catering to the tough economic times many are facing right now, with companies increasing the price of their premium offerings to counter rising costs, instead of just designing more affordable alternatives to flagships.

These high and rising prices suggest that companies are totally out of touch with their buyers, and don’t understand the economic hardship troubling many.

We’ll have to reach a breaking point sooner or later, either with brands finally clueing into the fact that they need to release cheaper phones, or with customers voting with their wallets by sticking to second-hand or refurbished devices. But until then, you can buy the best cheap phones to show that cost is important to you.

Tom’s role in the TechRadar team is to specialize in phones and tablets, but he also takes on other tech like electric scooters, smartwatches, fitness, mobile gaming and more. He is based in London, UK.

He graduated in American Literature and Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. Prior to working in TechRadar freelanced in tech, gaming and entertainment, and also spent many years working as a mixologist. Outside of TechRadar he works in film as a screenwriter, director and producer.

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DisplayMate awards the “Best Smartphone Display” title to the iPhone 14 Pro Max

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DisplayMate awards the “Best Smartphone Display” title to the iPhone 14 Pro Max

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