To keep the costs of pregnancy and childbirth down at companies and insurers, the femtech market – or what critics are calling “menstrual surveillance” – is the thing. The Washington Post wrote about the fertility, childbirth, and parenting app Ovia, which is given to many prospective mothers by their employers – but watched over by them too.
While women are asked to enter intimate and personal information about their sex lives, bodily fluids, and moods as they’re trying to get pregnant and while they’re expecting, that information is also all being recorded – and sold back to their employer by Ovia, which has 10 million users.
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Employers don’t have access to your individual information – but human resources can get aggregate data from all the women in your company that has been ‘de-identified.’ They can look up answers to questions like how many workers using Ovia had high-risk pregnancies and gave birth prematurely. They can peruse the most common medical questions employees had researched using the app, and try to solve the big question of “How soon the new moms planned to return to work.”
While many women find the app helpful and use it willingly, “Ovia also has become a powerful monitoring tool for employers and health insurers, which under the banner of corporate wellness have aggressively pushed to gather more data about their workers’ lives than ever before,” wrote the Post.
On the surface, the app pretends to care about women as they go through fertility and childcare – but at the bottom line, it is a maximization machine, tuned to the pitch of the profit the companies the women work for. The app suggests good times for women to try to conceive, for example, because this might help her avoid infertility treatments. And that’s important not exactly for benevolent health reasons but for corporate productivity. “An average of 33 hours of productivity are lost for every round of treatment,” as Ovia puts it in a marketing document.
Companies don’t always like babies; they are surprising and high-cost for them plus they can also lower productivity. From a purely capitalistic standpoint, it makes sense for them to introduce apps like Ovia. As the Post points out, it was AOL’s chief executive Tim Armstrong who in 2014 actually explained the company’s cuts to retirement benefits as a direct result of the high medical costs run up from two employees who gave birth to “distressed babies.”
As long as women continue to sign their information away to Ovia, however, their data will be used however the insurers and the company wants to use it.
Allure recently called the femtech market – the intersection of female health care and technology – the new “pink tax” for its upscaling of basic health items for women.
It’s not just Ovia that lives in the femtech marketplace, there are also its competitors, Clue, an ovulation tracker, and similar apps Glow and Flow. There’s Cora, which lets you order organic menstrual products via subscription service at luxury prices, “smart” breast pumps, and so many others.
Research firm Pitchbook estimates that last year about $400 million was invested in companies that qualified as “femtech,” according to Allure.
Trish Costello, the CEO and founder of invest fund fund Portfolia and the Portfolia FemTech Fund, asked the million-dollar question: “How useful are these innovations, really? In some cases, is this just another way for women to pay premium for being women?”
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