Not content with knowing where you have been, who you’ve been talking to, which of your friends you want to date and who you are likely to vote for, it now looks like Facebook also knows when you have been having sex – if you have been using a period-tracker app, that is.
A BuzzFeed investigation this week found that apps used by millions of women to track their menstrual cycles, including MIA Fem and Maya, had been sharing personal data with Facebook and other third-party services. The information included contraception use, physical symptoms and, yes, when users had sex. (Mercifully, it seems who we have been doing it with remains out of Facebook’s sweaty grasp.)
Menstrual tracking apps can be incredibly useful, from knowing when your period is likely to come to managing problematic symptoms or maximising your chances of conceiving. But should we reconsider sharing information with them? It is no secret that we already give a staggering amount of data to platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter. So it should come as no surprise that we are happy to share the most personal information with our phones; they’ve got everything else, so why not?
The fact that we so happily punch in highly personal information into apps we can’t guarantee are secure is really just the latest of example of how the measurement and quantification of even our most intimate behaviours is second nature. If someone told you they had written down every instance of when they had recently had sex into a notebook they kept by their bed, you’d probably start backing away pretty rapidly. But typing it into our phones seems normal, even logical.
With so much of our private, personal information floating around in the cloud, ready to be exploited by advertisers, politicians or the platforms themselves, it may seem academic that our sex lives are also under the data microscope. But resisting this monopoly is one way to stop the commodification of our emotional life, to stop thinking of intimate, meaningful moments as simply data to be recorded, measured and shared. Three in a bed might sound fun – but we need to think a little deeper about who we have invited under the bedsheets when our phones are in the picture, too.