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Lawsuit Challenges Fertility App Over Data Privacy Breaches

— April 8, 2024

Flo Health allegedly disclosed users’ sensitive information to third parties like Facebook without consent.

In a recent legal development, a class-action lawsuit in Canada against Flo Health, a widely used fertility app, has been authorized to proceed. This lawsuit centers on allegations that Flo Health disclosed users’ sensitive personal information, such as details pertaining to their menstrual cycles, sexual activities, and pregnancy status, to external entities like Facebook without the users’ consent.

The British Columbia Supreme Court’s decision to certify the claim marks a critical advancement in the lawsuit, which challenges the current state of privacy protections in Canada at a time when vast amounts of personal data are routinely inputted into mobile applications by millions.

The outcome of this case could potentially affect over a million Canadian Flo app users over a specified three-year span, granting them eligibility for compensation, though the lawsuit’s allegations have yet to be substantiated in court. Flo Health, in response to the accusations, asserted its focus on defending its practices, denying the sale or advertising-based sharing of user information with third parties.

Jamie Kah Cate Lam, who spearheaded the lawsuit, shared her experience with the Flo app, which she used for around 18 months while attempting to conceive with her partner. Lam entrusted the Flo app with intimate details regarding her reproductive health and sexual life.

Her affidavit expresses her dismay upon discovering, through a 2019 investigation, that Flo had allegedly transmitted such private data to companies including Facebook, contrary to her expectations of privacy upon downloading the fertility app.

Lawsuit Challenges Fertility App Over Data Privacy Breaches
Photo by Tim Samuel from Pexels

The findings led to a probe by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), culminating in a 2021 settlement requiring Flo to secure explicit user consent before disseminating health information. Flo settled with the FTC without admitting to any wrongdoing, emphasizing its policy of not sharing health data without user permission.

Justice Lauren Blake of the B.C. Supreme Court, in endorsing the lawsuit as a class action, identified the proposed class to include all Canadian residents, excluding those from Quebec, who utilized the fertility app within a specific timeframe. Justice Blake highlighted the advantages of proceeding with a class-action lawsuit in terms of judicial economy and efficiency.

Central to the controversy is the use of software-development kits (SDKs) by Facebook and Google, which offer analytics tools to app developers. These tools are designed to enhance user experience and expand the app’s user base by analyzing behavior and gathering data.

In return, apps share this collected data with tech giants, who then tailor advertisements and content to the user, essentially treating personal information as a commodity. Richard Parsons, co-counsel in the case, criticized the opaque nature of data sharing practices associated with SDK usage, arguing that app developers must clearly inform users when their data is being shared with third-party companies.

This lawsuit against Flo Health highlights the ongoing debate over privacy rights and data protection in the digital age, challenging how personal information is handled by mobile applications and tech companies.

As the case progresses, it will not only test the adequacy of Canadian privacy laws but also potentially set a precedent for how user data is treated and disclosed by app developers and technology firms worldwide.


Lawsuit claiming Flo Health app shared intimate data with Facebook greenlit as Canadian class action

Case 3:21-cv-00757-JD

Women’s health app maker settles FTC claims over data disclosure

FTC Finalizes Order with Flo Health, a Fertility-Tracking App that Shared Sensitive Health Data with Facebook, Google, and Others

You Give Apps Sensitive Personal Information. Then They Tell Facebook.

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