We discussed our concerns regarding privacy and period-tracking apps a few months ago. It’s still unclear whether that’s a legitimate fear or just a terrible hypothetical, but it is within the realm of possibility, which makes Apple’s newest Watch feature even more perplexing. If there’s concern about the safety of cycle-tracking, do you really want your Apple Watch Series 8 automatically monitoring it?
Let’s take a look at what Apple has rolled out. The new Apple Watch Ultra and 8 both offer “temperature sensing” and “cycle tracking with retroactive ovulation estimates.”
Note that Apple does throw in a footnote that neither of these features is a true medical assessment and should not be used for family planning purposes.
Using temperature to measure where someone is in their ovulation cycle is scientifically sound in a general sense.
It’s just that this feels like a gimmick that could potentially backfire badly. It’s retroactively tracking ovulation, so it is absolutely NOT a way to prevent pregnancy. Apple says that information is only being saved on the device itself, but that’s still dangerous.
Right now, emergency contraceptives like Plan B are legal in all states, but there are ongoing legal challenges and concerns that some states may attempt to restrict access. Plan B works by delaying or preventing ovulation.
Now Apple wants you to strap a device to your wrist that will monitor the state of your ovulation. See how this could potentially be problematic?
What happens when law enforcement accuses someone of using Plan B and uses their Apple Watch data to prove the disruption in their cycle, for example?
Are we being paranoid? Possibly.
But law enforcement in Nebraska used Facebook Messenger to build a case against a woman who sought an abortion that had become illegal in the state, another scenario that previously felt like a paranoid fear.
Securing information directly on a device is good, but it’s still information that can be accessed via a warrant.
It’s not medically useful; it won’t help if you’re trying to get pregnant or prevent pregnancy; all it does is collect information. Which is lovely, but you can learn the same amount using a basal thermometer and a notebook.
This would be a weird novelty addition to the Apple Watch features at a different time. But in the world we’re in now, this feels less like a cool add-on and more like an ominous reminder that our privacy and bodily autonomy are hanging by a thread.
At best, it feels tone-deaf and out of touch for Apple to roll this out, but the potential abuses of it make it very frightening and the first feature we’d disable in a new Apple Watch Series 8!