Flo: The First Period and Ovulation Tracker That Uses Neural Networks
Tue, April 20, 2021

Flo: The First Period and Ovulation Tracker That Uses Neural Networks

Menstrual cycle tracking apps are part of the “femtech” market. Reports show that there has been an estimated $1 billion investment poured into women’s health technology for the past three years / Photo by: Irina Bg via Shutterstock

 

Menstrual cycle tracking apps are part of the “femtech” market. Reports show that there has been an estimated $1 billion investment poured into women’s health technology for the past three years. The market is expected to be worth $50 billion by 2025. Menstrual cycle tracking apps have become an important part of women's lives since these keep tab on their monthly cycles by documenting their symptoms, dates, and other changes throughout the month. 

According to CNet, the world's leader in tech product reviews, news, prices, videos, forums, how-tos and more, it is important for women to track their period so they can be aware of their health, like hormonal imbalances or other related conditions. For instance, it can be a helpful tool to point to other underlying health issues when you experience irregular or absent periods. These apps are also helpful if you wanted to get pregnant or prevent pregnancy. 

"Periods are so helpful to track because it can help with planning lifestyles, fertility and also to help women know when there may be some changes to their cycle," Dr. Jessica Shepherd, an OB/GYN, said.

Introducing Flo

Today, there are several menstrual cycle tracking apps available in the market such as Flo, Clue, and Eve. These apps not only keep track of the dates of your period but also make predictions of when you are ovulating and when to expect your next period. App developers are also integrating artificial intelligence into these apps. AI and machine learning can help menstrual cycle tracking apps provide users with more accurate results. 

One of the most popular menstrual cycle tracking apps is Flo, the first-period tracking app to publicly announce using AI for improving cycle predictions. Within months after introducing neural networks to its prediction algorithm, the app became the most downloaded app worldwide in its category. This comes as no surprise since 30% of women across the world have irregular periods. The implementation of neural networks in Flo became possible through a collaboration with data science company InData Labs.

According to Digital Trends, a technology news, lifestyle, and information website for technology and consumer electronics products, unlike other menstrual cycle tracking apps, Flo analyzes a wide range of factors that might influence period cycles such as sexual activity, PMS symptoms, contraceptive methods, and mood. The app has a feature called Smart Tracking that automatically adjusts the app’s calendar to match cycles. Aside from that, it has Flo Rx that suggests specific four-week programs if Flo detects recurring symptom patterns. In this way, the app can give insight into headaches, cramps, cravings, acne, and many more. 

 

“The Flo app provides our users with perfect tools for this. They can analyze how their appetite varies throughout their cycle, examine the mood swings and physical changes. The approach will help women better ‘understand’ their bodies, and based on provided smart recommendations, it will encourage them to change their patterns to more healthy lifestyles,” CEO Maxim Scrobov said. 

The reason Flo’s neural network has become successful is because of the large amount of data users have supplied the app with. When Flo decided to collaborate with InData Labs to implement the neural network, there were more than 450 GB of useful information stored in their database. Reports show that women manually log around 1.4 million new data points every day, including cycle history, ovulation, and pregnancy test results. 

The more details a user encodes for a neural network to analyze, the better predictions they get. As a result, women are allowed to discover their bodies even more and learn about meaningful connections between a variety of symptoms and activities. 

The App Could Be Sharing Intimate Details With Facebook

When using menstrual cycle tracking apps like Flo, women assume that their information is kept confidential by the company. However, earlier this year, a report from The Wall Street Journal revealed that app makers like ovulation tracker Flo Health and Azumio Inc. have been providing and sharing sensitive, user-submitted data to Facebook without the consent of users. 

According to The Verge, an American technology news and media network operated by Vox Media, the data is used to inform Facebook’s ad-targeting tools. For instance, the data from Flo is used by the social media platform to effectively match information it collects from the software’s ovulation-tracking feature to real profiles. The information shared with Facebook includes the user's logged contraception use, monthly periods, and menstruation symptoms. 

Recently, a study from Privacy International, a UK-based charity, revealed that some menstruation apps have been sharing their users’ intimate details with the social network. This includes the last time they had unprotected intercourse. The researchers found out that out of the 36 apps they tested, 61% automatically transfer data to Facebook the moment a user opens the app. 

Such issues violate a user’s privacy. While menstrual cycle tracking apps like Flo are a great tool for women, the privacy concerns these apps give are extremely alarming. This is another reminder that tech companies need to be doing a lot more work to stop user data from being shared without explicit and informed consent.

As Eva Blum-Dumont, a researcher at Privacy International, said, “Consent is not just about a box to check. It is about being able to understand what you consent to and being able to refuse.”