Activision Blizzard wants data on company employee pregnancies

Olivia R. April 11, 2019

Activision Blizzard is asking its employees to share information on their pregnancies and menstrual cycles.

Period and pregnancy tracking app Ovia is a popular app among expecting mothers. But recently, employers like Activision Blizzard have started paying the apps’ developer, Ovia Health, to gain access to their employees’ data. According to the Washington Post, companies say this data will help “minimize health-care spending, discover medical problems, and better plan for the months ahead.”

But health and privacy advocates feel differently. Cornell University assistant professor Karen Levy, who has researched family and workplace monitoring, said these types of apps benefit the employers and insurers, not the women. This includes using the data to bump up the cost or scale back the coverage of health-care benefits.

“What could possibly be the most optimistic, best-faith reason for an employer to know how many high-risk pregnancies their employees have? The real benefit of self-tracking is always the company. People are being asked to do this at a time when they’re incredibly vulnerable and may not have any sense where that data is being passed,” Levy said.

Psychiatrist and founder of the Texas nonprofit Patient Privacy Rights, Deborah C. Peel, called the pregnancy tracking “disturbing.”

“There’s so much discrimination against mothers and families in the workplace, and they can’t trust their employer to have their best interests at heart,” she said.

There has been a large rise in pregnancy-tracking apps. Consulting firm Frost & Sullivan said the “femtech” market, which includes tracking apps for all areas of women’s lives and bodies, may be worth as much as $50 billion by the year 2025.

One of the most common body tracking apps, Fitbit, is frequently used in the workplace. Activision Blizzard introduced an incentive program for workers who tracked their physical activity with Fitbit back in 2014. According to vice president of global benefits Milt Ezzard, many employees voiced concern with “privacy-infringing overreach.”

In response, the game developer started offering more health tracking incentives, including apps for mental health, sleep, diet, autism, and cancer care.

“Each time we introduced something, there was a bit of an outcry. But we slowly increased the sensitivity of stuff, and eventually people understood it’s all voluntary [...] and we’re going to reward you if you choose to do it. It’s gone from, ‘Hey, Activision Blizzard is Big Brother,’ to, ‘Hey, Activision Blizzard really is bringing me tools that can help me out,’” Ezzard said.

The question remains: What is the real reason why Activision Blizzard is tracking women's pregnancies?