Is your pregnancy app sharing your intimate data with your boss?

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Like millions of women, Diana Diller was a devoted user of the pregnancy-tracking app Ovia, logging in every night to record new details on a screen asking about her bodily functions, sex drive, medications and mood. When she gave birth last spring, she used the app to chart her baby’s first online medical data — including her name, her location and whether there had been any complications — before leaving the hospital’s recovery room.

But someone else was regularly checking in, too: her employer, which paid to gain access to the intimate details of its workers’ personal lives, from their trying-to-conceive months to early motherhood. Diller’s bosses could look up aggregate data on how many workers using Ovia’s fertility, pregnancy and parenting apps had faced high-risk pregnancies or gave birth prematurely; the top medical questions they had researched; and how soon the new moms planned to return to work.

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Period-tracking apps are not for women

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“The design of these tools often doesn’t acknowledge the full range of women’s needs. There are strong assumptions built into their design that can marginalize a lot of women’s sexual health experiences,” Karen Levy, an assistant professor of information science at Cornell University, tells me in an email, after explaining that her period tracker couldn’t understand her pregnancy, “a several-hundred-day menstrual cycle.”

Levy coined the term “intimate surveillance” in an expansive paper on the topic in the Iowa Law Review in 2015. At the time, when she described intimate data collection as having passed from the state’s public health authorities to every citizen with a smartphone, she was mostly alone in her level of alarm. This was just after Apple Health launched (sans menstrual tracking), hailed as the future of medical care. But even before that, Levy argued, the “data-fication” of romantic and sexual behaviors was everywhere. There were smart pelvic floor exercisers that could pair with smartphones via Bluetooth. There were sex-tracking apps that quantified performance by counting thrusts and duration and “noise.”

“The act of measurement is not neutral,” Levy wrote. “Every technology of measurement and classification legitimates certain forms of knowledge and experience, while rendering others invisible.” Sex tracking apps and their ilk “simplify highly personal and subjective experiences to commensurable data points.”

‘I’m Possibly Alive Because It Exists:’ Why Sleep Apnea Patients Rely on a CPAP Machine Hacker

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Lynn, who lives in rural Arizona, did an at-home oximetry test, which tests blood oxygen levels, and then a sleep study. She was diagnosed with a difficult-to-treat form of sleep apnea, a disorder in which patients suddenly stop breathing for periods of time while they sleep that most often affects overweight men. She was given a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine and face mask—which blows air down a patient’s windpipe to keep the airways open—and sent home.

But a year-and-a-half and three sleep doctors later, her symptoms hadn’t improved. Her Apnoea-Hypopnea Index (AHI), which refers to the number of times she stopped breathing per night, was “horrible.”

“None of the doctors could get my AHI down and none of them seemed particularly concerned about it, to be honest,” she said. She started Googling for help, and came across a forum called CPAPtalk.com.

On the forum, users were talking about a piece of software called “SleepyHead.”

The free, open-source, and definitely not FDA-approved piece of software is the product of thousands of hours of hacking and development by a lone Australian developer named Mark Watkins, who has helped thousands of sleep apnea patients take back control of their treatment from overburdened and underinvested doctors. The software gives patients access to the sleep data that is already being generated by their CPAP machines but generally remains inaccessible, hidden by proprietary data formats that can only be read by authorized users (doctors) on proprietary pieces of software that patients often can’t buy or download. SleepyHead and community-run forums like CPAPtalk.com and ApneaBoard.com have allowed patients to circumvent medical device manufacturers, who would prefer that the software not exist at all.

 

The Newest Face of Diet Culture is the Instagram Butt

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Like the rest of diet culture, the Instagram Butt is a moralized attribute, gained only though, according to its purveyors, “hard work,” regimented diet (there’s a lot of overlap between #bootygails and the #IIFYM world), and “dedication,” whatever that means.

But that “hard work” isn’t just 20 minutes on a StairMaster. Flipping through the associated hashtags, there are also miracle cures and wondrous technology to get you there. There are #influencers with tips and tricks and appetite-suppressing candies. There are massive genetic barriers that may keep a person from achieving The Look — and there are cosmetic surgeries to help overcome them.

These are the trappings of the diet industry, a self-perpetuating mechanism that generates billions of dollars by perpetually over-promising and under-delivering. When the diet industry hits a bump in the road — like when people stopped being duped by Snackwells and started looking for “healthy” foods — the manufacturers of supplements, snacks, and sugary drinks pivot to meet consumer demand.

This new emphasis on building muscle and strength may appear, in many ways, to be a positive trend — and indeed, weight lifting is revolutionary for many people! — but the laser focus on a thick tush is not about health or wellness. It’s about buying stuff.

The Men Who Wear Fitbits to Track Their Coke Benders

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…some drug users find wearable devices like the Apple Watch and the Fitbit helpful in managing their intake of stimulants, which tend to get your heart rate up. They reason that by keeping their heart below a certain threshold of beats per minute (bpm) while high, they can lessen the always-present risk of an acute cardiac event. And so, ever since the consumer technology to keep tabs on your pulse 24/7 first became available, they’ve been sharing health data from their binges in online drug forums like the r/cocaine subreddit…

Deadly Convenience: Keyless Cars and Their Carbon Monoxide Toll

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It seems like a common convenience in a digital age: a car that can be powered on and off with the push of a button, rather than the mechanical turning of a key. But it is a convenience that can have a deadly effect.

On a summer morning last year, Fred Schaub drove his Toyota RAV4 into the garage attached to his Florida home and went into the house with the wireless key fob, evidently believing the car was shut off. Twenty-nine hours later, he was found dead, overcome with carbon monoxide that flooded his home while he slept.