The Risks Surrounding FemTech and the Need for Improved Regulations

The use of FemTech, which encompasses digital technologies focused on women’s health and well-being, has been identified to pose significant security, privacy, and safety risks for users according to research conducted by experts at Royal Holloway, University of London, Newcastle University, University of London, and ETH Zurich. These risks include unauthorized access to personal contacts, cameras, microphones, location, and other personal data (e.g., medical scans) by apps and IoT devices related to FemTech. The collection of a wide range of data about users and their environments through embedded sensors can expose sensitive and intimate information such as gender, fertility, and medical data to third parties.

The study analyzing regulations related to FemTech in the UK, EU, and Switzerland has revealed gaps in regulations, non-compliant industry practices, and inadequacies in addressing the risks associated with these technologies. Despite the estimated market value of over $75 billion by 2025, current regulations do not explicitly address the protection of FemTech data and users. The GDPR and Swiss FADP have references to sensitive data categories that overlap with FemTech data but do not specifically address the unique risks associated with these technologies. Industry practices include non-compliant data collection and sharing practices, posing risks to user privacy and security.

The research team identified a range of inappropriate security and privacy practices within a subset of FemTech systems. These systems often do not brand as medical devices, lack valid consent mechanisms, do not provide extra protection for sensitive data, and track users without their explicit consent. Furthermore, the findings indicate that intimate data collected by FemTech systems is processed and sold to third parties, highlighting a lack of guidelines for developing cyber-secure, privacy-preserving, and safe products. Dr. Maryam Mehrnezhad, lead author of the research, emphasized the presence of multiple threat actors interested in FemTech data such as fertility and sex information, underscoring the need for improved regulatory oversight and industry compliance.

The authors of the study call on policymakers, regulatory bodies, and industry stakeholders to collaborate in updating and strengthening guidelines to ensure the development and use of secure, private, and safe FemTech products. Professor Mike Catt of Newcastle University emphasizes the need for regulatory bodies to address the permissions granted to FemTech apps, some of which access mobile and device resources with potentially dangerous implications according to Google’s protection levels. With the increasing reliance on FemTech solutions to improve women’s health and well-being, it is crucial to address the security, privacy, and safety concerns associated with these technologies.

The research on FemTech conducted by experts from various academic institutions sheds light on the significant security, privacy, and safety risks posed by these technologies. The inadequacies in current regulations, industry non-compliance, and privacy violations underscore the urgent need for improved regulatory oversight and industry practices. By addressing these issues collaboratively, stakeholders can ensure that FemTech products enhance the quality of users’ lives without compromising their security and privacy.

Technology

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