The maker of a popular fertility app has been sued for allegedly sending personal data to Chinese analytics firms without users’ consent.
Premom, a digital ovulation tracker owned by Illinois-based company Easy Healthcare Corp., came under scrutiny last year when a privacy watchdog group found that the app on Android devices was sharing data about the user without permission, with three Chinese firms that focus on advertising.
The shared information included location data and unique device identifiers, which can be used to track a user’s activities across websites and other apps, the International Digital Accountability Council (IDAC) said in August 2020. Such data is also used by analytics firms to build profiles of consumer behavior.
The three firms—Jiguang, UMSNS, and Umeng—are all Chinese data analytics companies; Umeng is a Beijing-based startup owned by e-commerce giant Alibaba.
In a class-action lawsuit filed Jan. 20 in the U.S. Northern District Court of Illinois, Eastern Division, those allegations against Easy Healthcare also appeared. The data-sharing occurred from 2017 to 2020 and violated the privacy policies of Premom, which promised to not share personal data to “advertising platforms, data, brokers, or information resellers,” according to the court document.
“This was being done in secrecy without … Premom app users’ knowledge and consent,” it further stated.
The suit alleges that Easy Healthcare “deceived” users “because, unknowing to them, it directly worked with these three Chinese entities prior to launching the Premom app.”
“Prior to its launch, [Easy Healthcare] coded into the Premom app software the ability for these Chinese entities to access and take …. users’ personal information and location data,” it added.
The suit asserts that user data shared with the Chinese firms is stored on servers in China.
“Under Chinese law, all of this data is accessible by the People’s Republic of China, and in turn the Communist Party of China,” it said.
Desiree Moore, an attorney at K&L Gates LLP, which is representing Easy Healthcare, said the allegations in the lawsuit are “without merit” and the company is “confident it will prevail.”
She added, “Easy Healthcare is dedicated to the privacy and protection of its users above all.”
Last August, Premom told The Washington Post that it had revoked Jiguan’s access to the data. The company also told the outlet it “did not currently use” the other two Chinese companies, but didn’t comment on IDAC’s analysis showing that data-sharing took place until June 19 of last year.
IDAC’s findings led state attorneys general in Connecticut, Illinois, and Washington, D.C., to begin probes into the app.
The sharing of U.S. consumers’ data with Chinese companies became a hot topic during the Trump administration. Then-President Donald Trump issued an order banning wildly popular app TikTok, aimed at blocking Beijing’s access to large volumes of U.S. data that could be exploited for intelligence operations and to enhance the regime’s artificial intelligence tools. The ban is currently in the midst of being challenged in the courts.
Trump also issued another order, compelling TikTok’s Chinese parent company to turn ownership of the U.S. app to American shareholders. Trump had approved a partnership deal in principle—TikTok would be allowed to continue operating in the United States and ByteDance would create a new company called TikTok Global, with U.S. companies Oracle and Walmart having stakes in the company.
While both U.S. companies have remained committed to the September 2020 deal, the partnership hasn’t been formalized.
The Biden administration hasn’t indicated how it will deal with TikTok. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Jan. 25 the administration is reviewing a range of Trump-era China policies, adding that the president is “firmly committed to making sure that Chinese companies cannot misappropriate and misuse American data.”
This article was updated to include a statement from Easy Healthcare.