The emergence of FemTech, which encompasses digital technologies focused on women’s health and well-being, has raised significant concerns regarding security, privacy, and safety. Researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London, Newcastle University, University of London, and ETH Zurich have identified numerous privacy risks associated with FemTech. These risks include apps accessing users’ personal contacts, cameras, microphones, location, and other sensitive data, such as medical scans. Through embedded sensors, these apps and IoT devices collect a vast amount of information about users, their relatives, and their environments, potentially exposing intimate details to third parties.

The research team conducted a thorough review of existing regulations related to FemTech in the UK, EU, and Switzerland and found significant gaps in regulations, compliance practices of the industry, and enforcement. Despite the expected market growth of FemTech to exceed $75 billion by 2025, regulations fail to address the risks associated with these technologies adequately. Medical devices regulations in the EU and UK do not currently reference FemTech data and user protection, leaving a regulatory void that exposes users to potential security and privacy breaches. Furthermore, industry practices often involve non-compliant data collection and sharing practices, highlighting the urgency for regulatory intervention.

The study also shed light on industry non-compliance with security and privacy standards. The team identified a range of inappropriate practices in a subset of FemTech systems, including failing to brand as medical devices, lacking valid consent processes, and tracking users without their explicit consent. Not only do FemTech systems collect intimate data, but they also process and sell this data to third parties, exposing users to data breaches and privacy violations. The findings underscore the urgent need for research and guidelines to ensure the development of cyber-secure, privacy-preserving, and safe FemTech products.

Lead author Dr. Maryam Mehrnezhad emphasized the importance of collaboration among stakeholders to address the security, privacy, and safety risks associated with FemTech. She highlighted the research team’s ongoing efforts to share findings with the industry and regulatory bodies such as the Information Commissioner’s Office. Professor Mike Catt of Newcastle University echoed the call for regulatory bodies to update and strengthen guidelines to ensure the development and use of secure, private, and safe FemTech products. He pointed out that many apps accessed mobile and device resources, potentially exposing sensitive data to unauthorized third parties.

The rapid growth of FemTech presents numerous security, privacy, and safety risks that must be addressed through robust regulatory frameworks, industry compliance practices, and user education. As FemTech continues to evolve and expand, stakeholders must work together to safeguard the privacy and security of users’ intimate data. Only through collaborative efforts can the potential of FemTech be realized without compromising user privacy and safety.

Technology

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