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Radio News: Now that abortion is illegal in some states, an info war may be starting

Jun 26, 2022 11:33 pm

Jon Brodkin reports at Ars Technica that after the Supreme Court let states do away with abortions last week, Democratic Senators Ron Wyden, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Sara Jacobs sent a letter to Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan, asking to "investigate Apple and Google for engaging in unfair and deceptive practices by enabling the collection and sale of hundreds of millions of mobile phone users' personal data." After the Supreme Court ruling some are concerned that making a Google search for abortion, or using a period tracker app in states where abortion is outlawed will lead to legal consequences. "The FTC should investigate Apple and Google's role in transforming online advertising into an intense system of surveillance that incentivizes and facilitates the unrestrained collection and constant sale of Americans' personal data," the senators wrote. "These companies have failed to inform consumers of the privacy and security dangers involved in using those products. It is beyond time to bring an end to the privacy harms forced on consumers by these companies." The senators also wrote that women "seeking abortions and other reproductive healthcare will become particularly vulnerable to privacy harms, including through the collection and sharing of their location data." Clearly, information harvesting is part of almost any computer app in existence, even if some companies deny they sell that information. "Google never sells user data, and Google Play strictly prohibits the sale of user data by developers," the company said in a statement on June 24. But the senators letter, sent the same day, says they are concerned about how companies use the public radio waves to track the public. "Data brokers are already selling, licensing, and sharing the location information of people that visit abortion providers to anyone with a credit card. Prosecutors in states where abortion becomes illegal will soon be able to obtain warrants for location information about anyone who has visited an abortion provider. Private actors will also be incentivized by state bounty laws to hunt down women who have obtained or are seeking an abortion by accessing location information through shady data brokers," the letter said. The Electronic Frontier Foundation pointed out in a statement June 24 that even if companies do not sell the data they harvest, it could be used against women in court. "Everyone deserves to have strong controls over the collection and use of information they necessarily leave behind as they go about their normal activities, like using apps, search engine queries, posting on social media, texting friends, and so on," the EFF said. "But those seeking, offering, or facilitating abortion access must now assume that any data they provide online or offline could be sought by law enforcement." And a strongly-worded letter won't stop a court order. Read more about this story at Ars Technica.