Unveiled at Wednesday’s Apple event, the new Apple Watch has an array of added health features described in part as a stronger “commitment to women’s health” — one that will hopefully empower users to have a more hands-on experience with reproductive and personal health monitoring.
The new Apple Watch’s body temperature sensor tracks your nighttime wrist temperature, taking a digital reading every five seconds in order to detect minute changes while at rest or sleeping, which Apple explained is a reliable indicator for overall body temperatures.
Body temperature changes have long been used to detect what’s called the “biphasic shift”, or a change in body temperatures due to hormonal changes during the ovulation cycle. It’s often referred to online as “basal body temperature tracking,” as well. Before this tech upgrade, the shift was monitored manually using only an at-home thermometer and personal notebook. And it’s even been a rising topic of social media and sexual education conversations.
According to Apple, the Apple Health app will provide retrospective ovulation estimates using these readings. This will automatically alert users to predicted fertility windows and menstrual cycle deviations so they can engage in family planning or document their menstrual and hormonal health to inform conversations with their healthcare professionals. And since shifting body temperatures can also indicate other health issues, the new sensor might have broader health uses, as well.
But the hyper-detailed fertility tracking is a concern for many in the post-Roe privacy-concerned world, and for good reason. The legality of abortion care and intrusions on reproductive rights have forced many period-tracking apps to buff up their data privacy and encouraged individuals to be wary of sharing their personal health information unless expressly necessary. Privacy experts continue to be wary of data collection.
Apple made clear that privacy was “at the core” of the new feature’s development, however, and assured Apple event viewers that the newly collected data is only locally stored on Apple devices. This is a key detail that experts told Mashable was an essential improvement in the way other companies store personal information. The tech company, which asserted that data security and privacy as a “fundamental human right” of its users during the event, says that default two-factor authentication, strong passcodes, and end-to-end encryption for iCloud storage ensures that users retain control of what fertility data is collected, where it is stored, and who has access to it.
The new Apple Watch Series 8 is full of interesting new features, and ones that have repercussions for all users. But in an age where Big Tech has continued to get more and more personal, and one in which our government has failed at protecting everyday people from violations of personal privacy, it’s important that tech users be informed and vigilant of sharing their personal information.
As the tech giant made clear during the Apple event announcement, “Your health data is yours and yours alone.”