Of late, a rise has been noticed in the production of digital health tech for women. These products have been found to perform various functions, including the tracking of ovulation and reproduction. We have also seen the use of contraceptive microchips.This technology meant for women often called “femtech” or female technology, is a rapidly evolving global industry that’s expected to reach a value of $103 billion by the year 2030.There has been a continuous rise in the use of apps or devices that cater to our various aspects of life. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic restricted our access to doctors. It resulted in more and more women taking the help of technology to address their healthcare needs. It has triggered a major rise in the number of femtech companies globally.
The emergence of Embodied Technologies
All these digital health products come within the sphere of what specialists refer to as embodied technologies. These products make users aware of their bodily rhythms and functions safely and intimately, making them feel empowered. That said, there’s a downside to these technologies—a serious privacy concern. Despite dealing with health information, many apps are not held accountable for sharing certain data types.This challenge isn’t confined to startups only. The US recently saw a settlement between the ovulation app Flo and the Federal Trade Commission after the regulator alleged that Flo had shared the data of as many as 100 million users with various data brokers. Flo, however, maintains that it did no wrong and claims that it shares no user health information without the permission of the individual concerned.
Lack of research and funds
While femtech has seen growth and many new developments, it was revealed in a 2021 global market analysis conducted by the Australian network FemTech Collective that only 3% of investment deals struck since 2011 in the US health sector were set aside for women’s health. It’s an indication that most healthcare companies don’t consider the women’s digital healthcare industry viable for investments even though there are women in most healthcare roles and their spending on healthcare products is higher than that of men.
The report highlights that the women’s digital health industry needs more infrastructure, research, and capital flow than the male and gender-neutral markets enjoy. There needs to be a more specialized approach taken by the healthcare industry toward femtech. Therefore, the industry’s policies are broad and inflexible, insensitive to how complex and unique women’s health experiences are.
Beyond pregnancy and period tracking devices
Most of the popular femtech products are devices that track ovulation and pregnancy. The report from FemTech Collective goes on to acknowledge that there are many untapped opportunities. Therefore, women’s health should extend beyond reproduction and fertility.Again, products should be plenty of options for getting better privacy conditions. For instance, applications should consider any health data as precious. So, exchanging it with advertisers is a dangerous deal. Even if the data gets anonymized, meaning it cannot be traced back to you, there are ways for data de-anonymization. Thus, with enough data linked to a specific identifier, entities can learn much about your identity.Also, more effort must be put into femtech in the form of investment and research to make it more inclusive so women who need it the most can access it.
Can something be done?
The good news is that women are seeking increased involvement as the healthcare industry sees a push for developing more health products and services for them.Today, the industry is being transformed by organizations like FemTech Collective and Women of Wearables by creating networks that boost investment and innovation in femtech. Initiatives are being taken to ensure more diversity. These efforts are intended to transform femtech from a “niche” in the digital healthcare industry to a full-fledged industry.
We have mentioned how digital femtech companies like Flo have been found to share user information with third parties. It can be seen as a gross violation of the users’ privacy. As a user of femtech devices, how can you prevent your data from being revealed to third parties?The easiest option is choosing products that pay more attention to user privacy and overall data security. Other options include using installing a VPN for PC and other devices. While it cannot prevent all types of tracking, it will stop IP-based tracking. Other options include refusing third-party tracking cookies and adjusting app settings.
Femtech devices deal with women’s health issues that are highly private. It has so far been confined to only a few applications. It’s high time that the true potential of femtech is tapped, and we look at all the possibilities. Furthermore, we need to guarantee that people feel comfortable using such tech.Femtech needs to evolve and transform itself into a new ‘avatar’ with more meaning and purpose for women. To ensure this, we must provide more involvement of women in the development of femtech. Only then can it emerge as an industry.