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Photo by Claire McWeeney

About Clue

The journey of a single data point

What happens when you track your cycle.

by Ida Tin, CEO of Clue
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Do you ever wonder what happens after you tell your Clue app that you have a cramp, or had protected sex, or any of the many other things you can track?

What you track becomes a data point. A small piece of information that we keep for you, analyze for you, and potentially also share with carefully-selected health researchers—but of course after we have made sure that the data point cannot be traced back to you.

It sounds simple. But in reality your data point has an adventurous journey, and it is our job to keep it safe along the way.

First, it’s analyzed in our backend and securely stored

Your data point might have tasks to do before it reaches its final destination. It travels from your Clue app, through a secure channel, straight to our backend, where it gets analyzed by our algorithms. Clue’s technology looks at the data point in context with the other data points you have tracked, so that we can help you with cycle predictions and pattern recognition. The backend also looks at the data point to see whether your cycle seems healthy, or if something seems off. This way we can notify you.

We do a number of things to make sure that the data doesn’t get lost or even stolen on its journey. We keep any data that can identify you in one place, and all the sensitive data from your cycle tracking in a separate database. We also encrypt your data point—a security measure which jumbles up the data, rendering it unreadable to anybody but us.

There are now strict regulations in the European Union on how organizations must handle data that is considered “sensitive,” like your cycle tracking data. We think that is a good thing. For instance, you now have the right to have your data deleted. You can ask to get all your data exported, or change your data and take it with you someplace else. If you want to know more about how we handle your sensitive data, you can read about it here.

The other data you generate is called “usage data”

When you track you also generate another kind of data, which is about how you use the Clue app. This kind of data helps us understand if there are places where you get confused, or if there are things that you cannot easily use or find. We look at this kind of usage data and use other service providers and tools to help us understand it.

We follow best practices for data protection: what most app companies who care about data security and comply with European laws do.

We share anonymized data with carefully-selected researchers

I mentioned that your anonymized data might be shared with carefully-selected health researchers at a trusted research institution. Why do we do that?

We don’t make any money from this. We actually spend a lot of resources on these collaborations—data analysts, research coordinators, and so on. So it costs us money for us to do them.

The reason why we think this is so important is that we have a data set of what people with cycles really experience—one so large and rich that no individual researcher could collect themselves. We are the trusted guardians of this data, and we believe that it should benefit not only our app users, but also society at large.

As the scientific community learns more about menstrual cycles and reproductive health through our data set, that knowledge will eventually trickle down to healthcare providers and lead to better health care for all, hopefully including you. We think this is a good thing, and we are really happy and grateful that millions of people using Clue also feel that way.

This kind of research has been underfunded and overlooked, so we’re happy to help move things along. You can read more about our science collaborations here.

What about the data from my other apps? What about selling data?

Your data point rests safely on Clue’s servers. Data from other apps might not be as lucky. Many app companies choose to make money by selling your data to advertisers or data brokers. It’s unlikely that you as a user know this. The way you would know is by reading Terms of Service and Privacy Policies every time you install an app. In most cases, these are endless legal documents in small unreadable print that are written to not be understood.

At Clue we think selling data without real consent and hiding that process are both totally wrong. We have gone to great lengths to write these documents in a way that you can not only understand them, but also make an informed choice and learn how to navigate your data privacy. Here is our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

We don’t sell your data. Full stop.

I have written about how we make money here.

Can people who work at Clue see what I track?

Only a few people have access to the tools we use to look into the database. I as CEO, for instance, cannot have a look. As a precaution, we also have restricted access to the tracked cycle data. Care for our users is a core value of Clue—it would be so against who we are and what we believe in to look at individual users' data.

What about being hacked? What if someone steals my phone?

Those are real dangers on this epic journey of your data point. Clue could get hacked, or one of the services we use could get hacked. Every age has its villains. We do all the things we know of to keep data safe, but we also acknowledge that bad things can happen.

I believe that the benefits of living in an age of data outweigh the risks.

When you collect data about your health, you have the possibility to take care of your body, be informed, and get care. Your biggest risk is not that your app company gets hacked, but rather that it was founded by people whose ethical choices you might not agree with. That’s why you must choose wisely who you share your data with.

A few final travel tips for you and your data

Keep a passcode on your phone, and create an account on the Clue app. You can even enable a PIN code in the Clue app itself, for an extra layer of protection.

Sometimes people think they had created an account at Clue, and that we keep their tracking data stored with it. But if you use Clue without an account, then the data is only stored on your own phone. That means that if you lose your phone and haven’t backed it up, all your precious data will be lost in some terrible abyss and be gone forever. This is how most users lose their data. So either create an account, or do a backup of your phone, or best, do both. If you are under 16 you need your parents’ consent to create an account due to the new European data laws. (This is the only part of the law we think is really unfortunate.)

Oh, and one last bit of bonus advice. If you use an an app that wants to collect data on all kinds of things—for instance your location—that seem irrelevant to the service it provides, it’s a reason to be concerned. An app should only ask for the kind of data that is reasonable to the purpose of the app. If it asks for more, it might be a way to harvest and sell that data.

At Clue we view data privacy and safety as cornerstones of what needs to be done right. I hope this will help you understand how we together can keep your data point safe.

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