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Apple Watch’s New Ovulation Tracker Is a Wildly Out of Touch Idea

A man (Stan Ng) looks very small in the foreground in front a giant projection of an Apple Watch behind him.

The new Apple Watch Series 8 was released this month, and it includes one feature that, while useful for many, is so incredibly out of touch with this specific moment in time that it truly baffles the mind. Now, in September of 2022, is the time that Apple thought it would be a great idea to introduce an ovulation tracker.

Here’s how it works, according to Apple: “Apple Watch Series 8 or Apple Watch Ultra uses wrist temperature data to detect the biphasic shift, which is an increase in temperature that often occurs after ovulation. Advanced algorithms use wrist temperature data and logged cycle data to estimate the day ovulation likely occurred.”

The benefits here are obvious. For people trying to get pregnant, ovulation tracking is a necessary tool. If that can be as easy as enabling a pre-installed app, that’s going to be appealing to a lot of people.

But there are also a lot of very real risks to this kind of technology, and while they’re not new, they may not have been as readily apparent to most people until recently.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson WHO, which repealed constitutional protections for abortion, a nationwide spotlight tightened on our digital footprints and the ways in which they can, will, and already are being used to investigate and prosecute abortion. The idea that law enforcement would want to obtain our personal data from things like period and ovulation tracking apps (as well as text messages, emails, banking and payment apps, and so much more) is not hypothetical and it’s not an overreaction.

Even before the fall of Roe v. Wade, personal data was being used to prosecute abortion in post-viability cases. Sometimes this happens when a person turns over their phone willingly, sometimes they have been subpoenaed. There are also reports of data brokers selling information regarding users’ visits to reproductive health and abortion clinics. Apple’s track record on giving up personal data isn’t as bad as, say, Facebook’s—which recently gave messages between a teenager and her mother to law enforcement, leading to them being charged with a number of misdemeanors and felonies related to inducing a medicated abortion—but this is extremely sensitive information that we’re just expected to trust a giant corporation to keep safe.

Also, it’s been shown time and time again that everything laid out here applies to far more than just abortion. This data can be and has been used to investigate people who are actively trying to get pregnant. When that Nebraska teen and her mother had their Facebook messages turned over, police were investigating a potential miscarriage. Since the fall of Roe, people have been denied necessary medications for unrelated illnesses because their treatments have the potential to induce abortion. With that amount of fear and suspicion existing around this issue, the last thing we want is for more of our private information to be made available to those wishing to regulate our bodies.

If this only affected people looking to get abortions, it would absolutely be bad enough—bad enough to sound every alarm, delete every app. But that’s not the case, and anyone who thinks this couldn’t possibly affect them is likely kidding themselves.

I understand why Apple thought an ovulation tracker would be a natural progression from their existing cycle tracking technology. It’s also baffling that they saw the last few months of public discussion regarding the urgent drive to delete these sorts of apps and still thought this would be an appropriate time to introduce this feature into people’s lives.

(image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.