When tracking your period lets companies track you
140 comments·January 19, 2022
The extent to which "it matters" is subjective, I guess. I'm now the parent of a 2-year-old toddler and we didn't track any of that, we just were on the look for obvious signs of alarm but if everything looked normal we didn't count any of those variables. Everything went fine.
In fact, we almost had a problem due to "too much data tracking": in the first weeks, there was a point in which the baby hadn't gained weight for a week so the pediatrician suggested to give up exclusive breastfeeding and give him some formula to complement it. After some thought, we decided against it: we were quite aware of the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding, saw that the baby was otherwise looking and behaving fine, thought that the data on such short term maybe would not be significant, and gave him another week without changing anything. Next week, the baby was growing just fine, and he was exclusively breastfed until 6 months.
That said, if there's something I have learned as a parent is not to judge other parents, because no one knows what the right style of parenting is (and even when we know that option X is better than option Y, real life often makes it impossible to implement). So if data tracking apps work for some parents, more power to them, of course.
We raised three children without tracking data on their metabolic processes. We nursed them when they were hungry, changed them when they were moist or stinky, and comforted them when they were upset. The only thing we really measured is how little sleep we got. They have all grown into fine adults.
I have observed that one of the biggest causes of bad relationships between parents and their children -- and subsequent life problems for the children -- is when parents try to assert too much control. It's a fine line between responsibility and control, and the quality and quantity of information you need for the former before it becomes more of the latter.
The question is: do you need what the app gives you to fulfill your responsibilities, or do you just want it to satisfy your urges?
Bah! Back when I was a young parent, we had to track our baby's processes on stone tablets, that were on top of mountain, scratched with our bare fingers, and still our boy grew up into a fine knob thatcher.
> do you need what the app gives you to fulfill your responsibilities, or do you just want it to satisfy your urges?
There's a third option, which is that while not strictly necessary, certain tools can help make a job easier, so why not take advantage of them? I agree with you about having to be careful about control vs responsibility when raising a kid, but I'm not sure a baby poo tracker is crossing that line.
My first would go for days without pooping, some where around three mnths old? You could tell because she’d get testier and testier each day, till the day, then back to our happy little baby for a few more days. Woe if you didn’t have a well stocked diaper bag on the day.
Even if the data aren’t strictly needed, having them makes an interesting, important but difficult job a little easier to bear.
> certain tools can help make a job easier
Sure. If you insist on doing the unnecessary, possibly harmful job there are plenty of consumer grifts you can join that are waiting to relieve you of your money or exploit you for profit in some other way, like tracking and reselling your personal information. There is, after all, a sucker born every minute. Some of them have recently become parents.
But that's not a third option. That's just satisfying your urges.
> There's a third option, which is that while not strictly necessary, certain tools can help make a job easier, so why not take advantage of them?
Agreed completely! We used (and are still using, for the infant) a homebrew spreadsheet with a pen and a clipboard. Worked incredibly well for all 3 of our children, who are all under 3 years of age. No apps here, no thanks.
edit/ And, best of all, we didn't have to sort out any bullshit software compatibility issues with our friends or family when they were in the house helping. There's no data export/exfiltration problems. When we wanted to share the feeding log, nap schedule, sleep schedule, diaper changing log, etc., for our twins with a couple we're friends with who had their own twins... I spent maybe 10 minutes scanning 18 months of spreadsheets and emailed it over.
I agree that "we used to do just fine" isn't a sufficient argument by itself. There are many things that we didn't have when we were kids and even if we turned out fine, they are clearly beneficial (say, meningitis vaccines).
But honestly, is there really much value in knowing e.g. exactly how much and how frequently our babies feed? I mean, if you've had a baby you will know that feeding is purely instinctive, they are wired for it, and if they're hungry they are very well equipped to let you know by crying at a volume that would put Motörhead at shame. Nature (through the baby) gives us plenty of messaging about how and when he needs food, it's just a matter of interpreting it. And all babies are different, so are you sure that some table or general guidelines will give you better information than the babies themselves will provide? And are you sure it's worth spending your scarce energy and thoughts, as a sleep-starved parent, on doing that kind of tracking?
Anyway, as I mentioned in a different post above, I don't judge anyone on these issues. Different things might work for different people. If these apps work for many parents and help them implement the kind of parenting they see fit, more power to them. For me they're a distraction from actually communicating and getting to know my son, but to each their own!
I have a serious question and I’d love a real response. Why are so many parents so judgmental??
It’s really interesting. OP shared a story about what works for their child. Rather than just leave it be, you judge it, conclude that it’s going to be a cause of a bad relationship between parent and child and then turn it around so it makes the parent seem selfish.
Has it ever occurred to you that none of really know what we’re doing? And that unless you happen to be a highly trained professional in one of about three areas, you’re not qualified to say things like that??
Finally, do you ever think about how lonely parenting can be because of judgmental people like you??
Look, we have enough doubt. What’s wrong with just being kind?? Did implying that OP will have a bad relationship with their child build you up??
If so, what are you teaching your children? And what’s up with the judging? Who cares what other parents do?? It’s frankly none of your business.
Your response here seems more confrontational than the comment you were responding to. Both of those were parents discussing their perspectives and their approaches to raising children.
I read disagreement in those words, but no real sense of acrimony, until your post attempted to cast one comment as somehow being unfairly judgemental of another.
What you're calling out is nothing more than a reasonable conversation and disagreement on the efficacy of using apps to help with parenting. One parent thinks they can be useful, and another thinks they are unnecessary and that many parents receive empty utility from it.
It's OK for people to have a conversation about that and disagree. As a parent myself, having conversations with other parents (and non-parents) about child-rearing approaches, and running into disagreements, and talking those over.. is all pretty normal.
As a parent, I enjoyed your post very much.
It's a complex topic. I think people see their children as an opportunity to make things right, to produce a person without their flaws and traumas, who is able to live the good life, so they suddenly turn on this whole 'morality/ethics' bit of their brain that they haven't really used since they were like, seven.
As a result, they're really bad at it, really insecure of their conclusions, and really dogmatic. The cool thing is, it's not even along political lines. Everybody is judgemental.
It's funny: becoming a parent made me FAR less judgmental of other parents.
Breathe a little. Concentrate on parenting your child, not on obsessing with what everyone else thinks. If dealing with all the tech and giving away your child's data does _not_ stress you out, then wonderful! Go find somewhere enthusiastic about that to post. However, every message that is critical of the current techno-take-my-child's-data-please culture isn't aimed at your ego as a targeted personal offense. People who critique a potentially negative cultural trend are not personally calling you a bad parent or evil person.
I gave up WhatsApp 2-3 years back thinking if people before 2000 could live without it I certainly can live without it. I am thinking of applying that principle to many things of my digital life.
"I make my life more difficult because people in the past had difficult lives"?
How far do you apply this model? Passenger airbags in your automobile too?
This feel vacuous -- people before 2000 had to live without WhatsApp because they existed in an WhatsApp-free environment.
I think the value in tracking lies when health problems arise. Your approach works fine for a variety of healthy babies. If poop suddenly changes color, consistency and frequency, there could be a problem that needs intervention. We tracked all this manually for the first few months, then scaled it down. The most serious "issue" was a week long constipation. If there is a problem for the pediatrician, you can provide a log of all the inputs and outputs without guesswork.
I was doing something bold and unusual that neither my grandmother nor my mother did: breastfeeding.
To further complicate matters, my son wasn’t waking up on his own to feed often enough. When I just let him set the pace, he slowly lost weight when he should have been gaining. Additional complication: Covid causing us to be completely on our own those first few months.
Tracking feeding times and weights made the problem more visible, and diapers calmed me down (he wasn’t dehydrated!), and drove me to supplement with formula and to seek out a lactation consultant, who got me to start pumping. Tracking that output let me slowly switch him out of formula back to my milk. My grandmother gave up nursing after a week when her first child was never satisfied, and my mother never attempted it (80s in Texas).
Now that he’s a robust toddler who eats pretty much anything in reach, I no longer bother with food and diaper tracking, but still track temperatures when he’s got a cold because our daycare has strict rules about time since last temperature over 38 before being allowed to return.
So yes, I needed a way to see how often he was feeding and how long, along with matching that up to weight changes. Could I have done it on paper? Sure. Was it easier with the web app? Yes.
Anyone who actually knows me would laugh their ass off at the thought of me being a controlling, micromanaging parent: I’m far too absent-minded. They’re more worried about me forgetting to pick him up from daycare or that he’s in the car. These days, the only consumption monitoring I do is to make sure he doesn’t swallow something that is not food.
Data collection from the beginning helped ensure that I wasn’t inadvertently starving my kid when he was shockingly uninterested in nursing, and I wanted to remind people that there’s another way to accomplish that than the class of terrible, privacy-invading apps heavily marketed to women about aspects of our lives we would otherwise consider the details of to be private.
I’m sorry if you had overly-controlling parents. I happily didn’t, beyond normal Texas Baptist notions of morality, and see my main job right now as keeping him from getting severely injured before he’s old enough to understand heat, gravity and chocking hazards.
I'm a little surprised that there's so much negative reaction to this idea. In practice, kids cannot be totally controlled; they're independent individuals, and they're sneaky, and they're fast. It seems natural to me, at least, that the better strategy for a parent is to be available when your kids are truly over their heads, and to try to do the high-level work of steering them and winning them over to the right direction.
I think the negative reaction is that the OP was talking about a baby tracking app. To extrapolate some kind of larger lesson about someone's parenting from their use of an app that tracks how often their baby poops is... a stretch, to say the least.
I created a simple spreadsheet that we printed out / filled out each week. It worked great. No need for an app.
Same thing I'm doing right now. I intended to copy the data into CSV files to get a better sense of tracking, but (surprise surprise) I haven't kept up in what little free time the kid allows.
So far, the biggest benefits to tracking:
- Knowing how long we have until the next feeding. I swear he has a three hour timer in him somewhere.
- Knowing if one of us already gave him certain medications today.
- Calculating average amounts over the week before a pediatrician visit.
And, like all logging, it only shows its value in hindsight.
You can always throw away data you logged but later realize you don’t need, but you can’t go back in time and log data you now wish you had.
The benefit to the Baby Buddy approach is that whatever device with a web browser was closest to hand was where I could enter what just happened, or happened a few hours ago, because it was highly unlikely that I’d have entered a bunch of stuff I’d kept on paper into CSV.
Same. Sometimes, low tech is just fine. :)
> If you don’t know why it matters how many diapers there have been in the last 24 hours and what kind of mess was in there, along with how often and how much milk was consumed, you’ve obviously not been the primary caretaker of an infant recently.
I don't want to downplay your software and your effort but my wife and I raised two wonderful baby girls without any app tracking how many diapers we changed or how many poo they did. We only had to be a bit more "strict" on weight-gain tracking for the 1st one during her first 2 months or so because she was born quite small and we had some issues breastfeeding her at the beginning. I understand there might be situations where it is useful to track some data of the infant but I would say it's just if there is some underlying condition.
Hm. I should have said “why it might matter” because not everyone ends up with a baby surprisingly uninterested in nursing…
Hey pal, I have no idea why everyone is lining up to tell you that you’re wrong. I loved reading your story and it gave me a lot of warm, fuzzy feelings from when my child was little.
Our little people are all different and we all love our little people so we adapt to them the best we can. (My child is almost six, so at this point, ‘she adapts me’.) :)
You seem like a wonderful parent and I really dig your attention to detail. :)
Thanks for sharing Baby Buddy. My child was almost two when it was released. But holy crow, that would have been helpful!! :)
The times they are a-changin’
Baby Buddy helped me out in large part because even before I had a kid, I was kind of scatterbrained. After… oh god.
I kind of get why a lot of people react negatively. If you had the happy path, you think lactation consultants are ridiculous (what’s more natural than a baby sucking a boob?!), and of course the baby’s going to cry when he’s hungry, and he’ll be hungry when he needs to eat. And what are grandmothers and aunts and friends with older kids for, but to help the new mother learn her job and to point out to her when they think something’s not quite right with the baby that they’re constantly dropping by to cuddle?
Hi. Welcome to having a kid an ocean away from your close friends, a decade after your mother died, at a point in the pandemic when we were hearing promising news about vaccines being developed and quick, cheap tests on demand were a fantasy.
This kinda shows the problem with self-hosting though. Expectant parents just want an app they can directly use. Even something as simple as Heroku is outside the tech skills of 95% of parents.
Yeah, I wouldn’t bother suggesting it outside of some place like HN.
Baby Buddy maintainer here — I have often thought about trying to turn the app in to a product for non-techie parents and still respect user privacy but I feel like that is still a hard sell (i.e., I don’t think I’d get far just being more privacy focused than other options out there). Also the options have actually improved a pretty good deal since the time I started working on this for our family (from a usability, if not privacy POV).
Thanks, by the way, for contributing! We have long passed our own need for the app with our little ones but it has been a joy to maintain and interact with Baby Buddy’s users over the years.
Maybe there is a market for paid apps and services that do not sell your data?
See my comment in another thread. It doesn’t necessarily add much but my gut says probably not. Or if there is I would bet it’s just as or more niche than parents who would self-host their own app. But maybe I’m understanding the extent to which becoming a parent makes people think more about privacy as a priority?
Definitely curious to know if anyone has done any real research on this generally — that is, whether there is a real market for the “privacy focused” version of any product that would have other cheaper, less privacy focused options.
I also used baby buddy and it was great.
> There is no such thing as an app anymore that works in your interest, as a guiding first order principle.
There's Free Software.
Android users have F-droid. It has been my first destination for a while when I need an utility app.
Many (relatively) expensive paid apps are also fully pro-user.
I wonder if it would be feasible to have some sort of trademarked "Pro-User" badge, and an organization which vets apps and licenses the trademark to them?
I know such things exist for "cruelty-free" (i.e. no animal testing) -- why not for "MBA tech bullshit free?"
Unfortunately I couldn't spot a good period tracking app on F-Droid (or other open source ones on GitHub); something pretty with a decent estimate when the next one would be would be nice. Does anybody have recommendations?
> There is no such thing as an app anymore that works in your interest, as a guiding first order principle.
Hey there’s still a few of us left. I am the developer of mood tracker MoodWell, a similar genre apps as this post. Users input a ton of their private data in the app- from their mood and emotions data to what activities they are doing, notes, photos, weather etc. to track their mental health and how it’s affected by different activities, weather etc.
This is very personal data and that’s why my app keeps all this data locally. Only if they use iCloud sync between multiple devices, then it goes to Apple iCloud server. But none of that ever gets sent to me and I have no control or access over their data.
I have similar reputation about privacy for my other apps including my hacker news client app HACK, school timetable app, resume builder website etc. my resume builder website even builds the resume pdf locally in the browser and no data gets sent to any server.
Direct link to the transcript: https://www.npr.org/transcripts/1068930998?_pjax=main
The icon on the far right on the same line as the play button shows the transcript.
Greatly appreciated, thanks!
> E TOGNI: Since I've started using Flo, every time my period is late, even just by one day, I receive ads on Facebook, Google and YouTube about pregnancy tests all the time. And then if I'm late for more than one day, I receive other ads about family planning, how to have a healthy baby. And, you know, a lot of products are just advertised to me constantly. I'm bombarded with this. And this happens every month for the past six years (laughter).
AGGGH. That's not "funny, cute, lulz." That's "Remove from phone and never look back!"
I'm glad to see surveillance capitalism in the general discussion, but, man, it's depressing just how much it's taken over literally everything in the past decade.
For phone apps, you may like https://trackercontrol.org/. It's mostly set and forget and blocks 99% of tracking by default in my experience.
Trackers are a tiny part of the problem, most nefarious data collection isn’t some third party ad network (in apps), but is intrinsically bound to the core functionality of the product. It’s impossible to block the data collection when the data collection is the service.
From my experience, this is a problem only with the largest and most popular of apps, the kinds that are made by surveillance companies such as Google and Facebook. And even those usually use dedicated domains for tracking.
So while not perfect, I think Tracker Control works exceedingly well in practice. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good and all that.
Your post reminds me of how ironic it is that despite the amazing wealth of software that exists today day, if your use case involves any expectation of privacy you generally can't find anything that fits your needs.
It's out there but it gets deliberately buried instead of promoted.
Back when I had access to a decently-sized database of scraped app data, a sure-fire way to find hidden gems was to search for apps that did not ask for internet access.
Of course Google does not let you filter for that in any way in the app store, because people making and sharing apps without aggressively monetising them does not make money for Google.
Between this, and Peloton and eBay doing portscans of your network,
anyone who made fun of people for tech paranoia should be feeling pretty ashamed of themselves right about now for what we've allowed to become commonplace,
while simultaneously acknowledging it's only enabled by society ghosting its responsibility to learn tech.
I can't remember exactly which smart device it was, but I think it was my Wyze Watch that asked for wayyyyyy too much information during setup.
Like, dear watch, how's my sex, birthday, size and weight gonna help you do your job?
I got you to 1) show the time 2) have alarms that I can set without using the phone, like in bed 3) monitor my sleep 4) check my heartrate and saturation when I exercise.
There's literally 0 reason to have my birthday, so I went by january 1st :)
But it shouldn't even have been asked in the 1st place.
> what we've allowed to become commonplace
We should not allow it anymore. A smart device that insist on having an app on a phone to be usable won't get my $$$.
Age, sex, size and weight are needed to accurately count calories. Now, whether you should sacrifice your private data for some slight extra accuracy in counting calories, thst another story.
> Like, dear watch, how's my sex, birthday, size and weight gonna help you do your job?
Come on. Every single one of those is an input for modelling calorie burn. If you don't want your watch to try and estimate that, that's fine - but it's pretty obvious why a fitness tracker would have those features.
For Android users, there's the open source app Gadgetbridge. It works with some watches/bands and headphones:
I got an Amazfit Bip to use with GadgetBridge just for this reason, to have control over my data.
It's definitely not a very sophisticated device, but it tracks my heart rate and activity and can track my walking routes if I want it to. And the data never leaves my devices.
That's not the case here, and it is probably prudent not to simply dismiss tracking apps if they are things you'd need/want to track anyway. While tracking your monthly cycle won't necessarily make you healthier, there are a number of ways it keeps you healthy and improves your life. This sort of tracking is one folks have been doing since well before we generally had internet: I was told back in middle school in the late 80s and early 90s, for example, that I should track it.
Not everyone does it, but most of the folks that don't will do so if they are doing things like trying to get pregnant, know when their mood will change, or are having other issues. I'm pretty sure that menstruation issues are the real thing that lowers your overall wellbeing. I've experienced this very thing, and I've needed the dates when things have gone wrong... or simply when I have had to go to the hospital/doctors, since they always seem to ask when I first started my last period.
Something on your phone simply makes it easier, especially since most folks take their phones into the bathroom with them from time to time. I just use a notetaking app, though, mostly due to privacy.
This is a very broad generalization that doesn't actually seem to be accurate.
We know that there are benefits to tracking your blood pressure at home, for example.
In addition, and closer to the topic in the original link, there are simply concrete benefits (ie: birth control) to an app like Natural Cycles, which involves tracking your temperature and period in an app. I understand that for some people this type of additional option may be difficult to appreciate, especially if you're not a potential user. It requires a lot of discipline: taking your temp consistently and at just the right time. But for women who might not be interested in or respond well to hormonal birth control, it can be an invaluable tool.
Even for normal period tracking apps: tracking one's period _can_ be useful. It can help to monitor fluctuations that would otherwise easily go unnoticed for longer than they need to. I've had friends who missed very early or late periods for months before they realized their schedule was off and that it might be something they should see a doctor about.
In conclusion, this "all apps/tracking health data is useless" sentiment that gets thrown around so commonly does not really seem to be in touch with reality.
Wahoo, strava, intervals.icu, hrv4t, kubios, elitehrv, ..I'm better than I was, excuse I know where I was.
Banning targeted advertising is the only solution.
Confine ads to known spaces you can visit and expect to be advertised to.
You can still find new products, but the economic incentives behind surveillance capitalism are gone.
This should be the top comment - as a Baby Buddy enthusiast who isn’t interested in setting up a second child profile, I’m thrilled to find out about Drip!
 has an HN discussion from 2012 on “How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did”
 is the non-paywalled NYT article being discussed and linked to in the thread.
It starts: “Andrew Pole had just started working as a statistician for Target in 2002, when two colleagues from the marketing department stopped by his desk to ask an odd question: ‘If we wanted to figure out if a customer is pregnant, even if she didn’t want us to know, can you do that?’”
I remember that one. Marketing as a profession really seems to attract sociopaths. I'm not sure the people who enable them are much better.
In my book the enablers are worse. Without them the sociopaths wouldn't be able to do much of anything. Bad ideas abound, execution capability is - rightly - rewarded when it works out positively, likewise it should be punished when used in a negative way.
Well, hopefully not anymore at least
The GDPR does this, but it's pretty ineffective. I'm tracked just as much as before, but now they tell me first. Opting out is difficult at best, and often simply impossible.
That's because of a lack of meaningful enforcement. Most dark patterns and annoyances we associated to the GDPR are illegal but until the law is enforced with the "4% of global revenue fines" nothing will change.
GDPR still makes transferring data off of ones device necessary. It relies on post-hoc enforcement. A good first step toward data ownership for sure, but can we do better?