Democrats expand tech review to abortion data privacy

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Experts say online searches, location data, texts and emails, and even period-following apps, could be used to prosecute people seeking abortions – or medical care in the process. cases of miscarriage – as well as those who assist them.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic Representatives are expanding their scrutiny of the role of tech companies in collecting the personal data of people who may seek abortions, as lawmakers, regulators and the Biden administration grapple with the consequences of the Supreme Court ruling last month ending constitutional abortion protections.

In a new volley of letters to Congress, six House Democrats questioned top executives at Amazon’s cloud services network and major cloud provider Oracle about the companies’ handling of consumer location data from phones phones, and what steps they have taken or plan to protect the privacy rights of people seeking abortion information.

The court’s conservative majority decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has led to strict limits or outright bans on abortion in more than a dozen states. A dozen other states are set to impose additional restrictions. Privacy experts say this could leave women vulnerable as their personal data could be used to monitor pregnancies and shared with police or sold to vigilantes. Experts say online searches, location data, texts and emails, and even period-following apps, could be used to prosecute people seeking abortions – or medical care in the process. cases of miscarriage – as well as those who assist them.

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Privacy advocates are monitoring possible new actions by law enforcement in affected states – serving subpoenas, for example, to tech companies such as Google, Apple, Bing, Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp, services like Uber and Lyft, and internet service providers like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Comcast.

“Data collected and sold by your company could be used by law enforcement and prosecutors in states enforcing aggressive abortion restrictions,” said House Democrats, led by Rep. Lori Trahan of the United States. Massachusetts, in the letters. “Additionally, in states that allow vigilantes and private actors to sue abortion providers, this information may be used in legal proceedings.

“When consumers are using apps on their phones and quickly pressing ‘yes’ on ‘use geolocation data’ pop-ups, they don’t have to worry about their data being endlessly sold to advertisers, individuals or to law enforcement. And it certainly shouldn’t be used to hunt down, prosecute and imprison someone seeking reproductive care. Companies can act today to protect individual rights.

The letters were also addressed to the executives of Near Intelligence Holdings and Mobilewalla. Along with Oracle and Amazon Web Services’ Data Exchange, the companies have been described as leading data brokers – companies that collect, sell or trade location data from mobile phones, which could be used to track people who visited abortion clinics or went out of state to seek abortion services.

Five other Democrats active in tech issues signed the letters with Trahan: Representatives David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Yvette Clarke of New York, Debbie Dingell of Michigan, Adam Schiff of California and Sean Casten of Illinois.

Spokespersons for Amazon and Oracle did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

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Also this week, the two US senators from Massachusetts, Democrats Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey sent letters to four companies raising concerns that the software they use to monitor students’ online communications could be used to punish students who seek information about abortion services and reproductive health care. They asked the companies – Bark Technologies, Gaggle.net, GoGuardian and Securly – whether their software flagged students’ online searches for abortion and other related terms.

“It would be deeply disturbing if your software flags words or activities that suggest students are seeking contraception, abortion, or other related services, and if school administrators, parents, and even law enforcement were potentially aware of this activity,” Warren and Markey wrote.

Typically, so-called “ed tech” companies claim that surveillance is intended to stop the next school shooter or student suicide, and that scans are mostly limited to school emails or activity on school computers or Internet networks, not private accounts. .

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden, under mounting pressure from fellow Democrats to be more forceful in response to the Supreme Court ruling, signed a decree to try to protect access to abortion. The actions described by Biden are intended to avoid some potential penalties that women seeking abortions could face after the ruling, but his order cannot restore access to abortion in more than a dozen states where limits strict or total bans have come into force.

Biden also called on the Federal Trade Commission to take steps to protect the privacy of those seeking reproductive care information online. On June 24, the day the High Court announced its decision, four Democratic lawmakers asked the FTC to investigate Apple and Google for allegedly deceiving millions of mobile phone users into allowing the collection and sale of their personal data of all kinds to third parties.

In May, several Senate Democrats urged the CEOs of Google and Apple to ban apps from the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store from using data mining practices that could make it easier to target people. people seeking abortion services.

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By MARCY GORDON AP Business Writer

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