FTC Cracks Down On Sharing Medical And Location Data After Abortion Privacy Concerns

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has said it will step up consumer privacy protections in a post-deer America, saying the agency is “committed to full enforcement” against the unlawful sharing of sensitive medical and location data.

In a blog post Released Monday by Kristin Cohen, the FTC’s acting associate director in the Identity and Privacy Division, the commission was particularly aimed at data brokers and third parties who share previously collected information. The post points to a wide range of sources that may collect sensitive information about a user, but stresses that the combination of location data and health data poses a particular risk to consumers.

“The conversation about technology tends to focus on benefits,” Cohen writes:

But there is a behind-the-scenes irony that needs to be examined in the open: the extent to which highly personal information that people choose not to disclose, even to family, friends or colleagues, is in fact shared. with total strangers. These outsiders participate in the often murky ecosystem of ad tech and data brokerage where companies have a profit motive to share data at unprecedented scale and granularity.

While there are many areas of life that users of digital services may wish to keep confidential, information related to reproductive health is particularly sensitive, the blog states. As such, the FTC intends to use federal and state laws to prosecute any company that fails to adequately protect this information or misrepresents how it is stored, anonymized, and shared.

“The Commission is committed to using the full scope of its legal powers to protect consumer privacy,” Cohen writes. “We will vigorously enforce the law if we discover unlawful conduct that exploits the location, health or other sensitive data of Americans. The FTC’s past enforcement actions provide a roadmap for companies seeking to comply with the law.

The FTC statement follows an executive order on abortion care and patient privacy that was signed by President Biden on July 8. The executive order emphasized the need to ensure access to abortion and contraception while protecting the privacy of those who may access reproductive health services. As such, the order directed the Department of Health and Human Services to expand access to medical care for pregnant women and ensure that FDA-approved drugs are widely available and also directed called on the FTC to take additional steps regarding consumer privacy for abortion seekers.

Since the Supreme Court struck down federal abortion protections, many privacy advocates have raised concerns about the weaponization of data collected by period-tracking apps and other online services. With abortion now banned in at least 10 states and with more chances to follow, reproductive justice advocates have urged tech companies to minimize the collection and retention of data that could be used to sue abortion seekers . So far, the push has had some success: In early July, Google announced that the company would begin automatically deleting records of visits to abortion clinics from users’ location history.

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