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Your health app thinks you might be pregnant
And advertisers really hope you are!
A pregnant person’s data is five times more valuable than a non-pregnant person’s.
Why? Advertisers know that, if you’re pregnant, you’re about to be spending a whole lot of money on things like diapers, baby lotion, car seats, cribs, baby clothes, baby food, and toys.
How do advertisers know a woman is pregnant? Oh, just a little digital intuition.
Or, more accurately, they’re totally culling through your online data looking for behavior patterns that pinpoint YOU as a pregnant person.
Target, for example, assigns shoppers a “pregnancy prediction” score based on relevant purchases, which might include an increase in products like unscented lotion or extra-big bags of cotton balls – items they’ve figured out pregnant people start buying in the second trimester.
Read the full story on that, it’s wild: “How companies learn your secrets” – via nytimes.com
Also this one: “How Target figured out a teen girl was pregnant before her father did” via Forbes
Using this data, Target did what any advertiser would: They sent out coupons for all sorts of baby-related items. But as a consumer, it’s creepy as heck when to realize your area Target knows you’re pregnancy status when you certainly never told them – maybe you haven’t even told half your friends or family yet.
But even creepier than that is when advertisers suspect you’re pregnant BEFORE YOU DO.
That’s information that can be gleaned straight out of a health app.
NPR’s Short Wave podcast recently had an episode about period tracking apps, and how the data we enter in those apps isn’t just for our own insight. It’s often sold to advertisers. And we’re not just talking period-tracking apps, we’re talking any health app you might be using to track your food, diet, sleep, blood pressure, or exercise.
In fact, guests on the episode, health researchers Giulia De Togni and Andrea Ford, referenced a study that found that 79% of health apps share user data outside the app. And we give those apps a whooooole lot of information, which could include anything from our mood or energy levels to what medications we take and when we have sex.
Listen to the episode, “When tracking your period lets companies track you” via NPR
During the Short Wave episode, researcher Giulia De Togni noted that she’s used a period tracking app for several years. If it happens that her period is even a day late, platforms like Google, Facebook, and YouTube start delivering her ads for baby-related products. It’s selling her baby things before it probably even occurred to her to take a pregnancy test.
That kind of lurking is creepy. Knowing that advertisers are privy to the daily goings on inside your uterus — or any part of your body, really — is uncomfortable.
But not to worry, big brands like Target have thought of that, and they’ve figured out how to de-creepify their advertising. The secret: Just mix coupons for wine glasses and lawnmowers into the baby-related coupons, and customers won’t suspect a thing.
“And we found out that as long as a pregnant woman thinks she hasn’t been spied on, she’ll use the coupons,” said Target statistician Andrew Pole in an interview with The New York Times Magazine. “She just assumes that everyone else on her block got the same mailer for diapers and cribs. As long as we don’t spook her, it works.” - via How Companies Learn Your Secrets - NYTimes.com.
Even if you’re not a person who could become pregnant, your health data is valuable. If you’re using a wellness app, fitness app, mental health app, or substance use disorder app, it’s likely your data is out there.
“In an analysis of over 20,000 mobile health apps available in the Google Play marketplace, researchers found that 88 percent contained code that had the ability to collect user data, according to a cross-sectional study published in the British Medical Journal,” - via healthitsecurity.com
Even apps intended solely for Covid tracking have had their data used for other purposes, like this story from Germany where police and prosecutors used such data to identify possible witnesses to a man’s fatal fall outside a restaurant.
The reason for this, as Giulia De Togni notes, is to benefit advertisers. And they sure do love pregnant people. But those advertisers are more than happy to have access to your health data, pregnancy or not.
They’re certain there are plenty of weight loss/mood-boosting/exercise/migraine/fertility/skin care/hair care/muscle building products you’ll be interested in.