Wearable devices—and their accompanying apps—are more popular than ever. That’s because they make it so easy to track your steps, heart rate, sleep quality, menstrual cycle, and more. And monitoring these metrics just seems to make sense when you’re trying to get healthier. But what happens when employers and insurance companies try to take advantage of the fact that so many people now use wearables and health apps? Well, those companies might benefit…but their employees and customers alike could be taking a big risk. Here’s why letting your boss or insurance company track your period and other sensitive data may not be the best idea if you value your privacy.
What Kind of Information Are You Giving Your Boss?
These days, apps can record just about every aspect of your health. Depending on the app or device you use, you could be giving away some very private—and even embarrassing—data. Sure, you might not care much if your boss knows that you take 7,000 steps per day and have an average resting heart rate of 71. But you might start to care when you realize your boss or insurance company is comparing those numbers to last year’s and seeing that you’re getting less active and your heart rate has gone up over time. This is because those companies could begin to draw some conclusions about your lifestyle that could have an effect on your job or insurance offerings.
And of course, some of the information those apps record is much more invasive than your heart rate. Some of them focus on the menstrual cycle, which means your boss could be kept updated on when you’re expecting your period, when you’ll ovulate, what your latest mood was, and even the last time you were intimate—depending on what you record when you track your period.
The idea of your employer having access to this information is probably pretty mortifying, and yet it’s not outside the realm of possibility. In fact, Ovia has pitched its app to insurance companies and major employers who might want to keep track of anyone who is thinking of starting a family. And that’s just one period-tracking app on the market. It’s certainly not the first or last app that’s approached employers and insurance companies with the intent to let them track your period, along with tracking the private data of individuals.
How Can Giving Up This Information Hurt You?
Let’s face it; there’s a reason your employer or insurance company might want to track your period and your sensitive data, and it’s not usually to help you out. Instead, this information is typically used to save them money. For instance, if your employer knows you’re trying to conceive, they could start looking for your replacement before you even get pregnant, so they don’t have to deal with the possible costs or hassle of maternity leave. And if your insurance company sees that you’ve gained weight over the years and now have an above average resting heart rate, the price you pay for insurance could go up—or your policy could be revoked altogether.
Of course, if you’re pretty healthy, letting your employer or insurance company track your health data could help you out—for now anyway. If it’s clear you’re in good shape and don’t seem to be planning to conceive any time soon, your employer might keep you on the list for promotions, and your insurance company might reward you with better rates.
But what happens when those details change? Suddenly your advantage turns into a disadvantage, leaving you paying more money or facing job loss as you deal with health issues or major life changes. And while most employers and insurance companies alike don’t require individuals to let them track data—at least not yet—they tend to encourage it through discounts and other rewards that some people are afraid to lose. In that case, it doesn’t feel voluntary anymore, because you feel like you can’t afford to opt out.
At that point, it’s an invasion of privacy that you shouldn’t have to deal with just to stay employer or insured. In general, there has to be a line that protects your privacy, especially when you’re dealing with illness or considering starting a family. So as much as you enjoy using health-focused apps that track your period and more, think about if it’s really worth it to share that information with your employer. The perks might sound good for now, while your health is good enough to play in your favor, but that might not always be the case. Just consider the risks of missing out on promotions right when you need the money for doctor visits or a pregnancy, or facing higher insurance rates the moment you really need an affordable premium. Keep these perils in mind before you decide to share your private data with anyone.