Period tracking apps, tech companies hit by privacy fears after Roe vs Wade reversal

Period tracking apps, tech companies hit by privacy fears after Roe vs Wade reversal

Period tracking apps, tech companies hit by privacy fears after Roe vs Wade reversal | Photo Credit: Reuters

Privacy advocates and abortion rights activists fear that law enforcement could use pregnant people’s health information, including data collected by period tracking apps, against them in court after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe vs Wade ruling.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision, many privacy advocates and experts have encouraged individuals using menstrual tracking apps to delete them so that they are not charged with crimes, should they opt for an abortion.

With the Supreme Court overturning the 50-year-old Roe vs Wade judgment, states across the country now have the power to ban abortions, affecting millions of American patients. 

Clue, one of the world’s most recognisable menstrual tracking apps, allows users to analyse their cycle by the day, input their health symptoms, and predict ovulation days and future flows.

“We are, and always have been, committed to protecting your private health data. Your tracked experience should empower you, whatever your private health decisions. We will never enable anyone to use it against you. #RoevWade,” tweeted the company on Sunday. 

Moreover, Clue confirmed that European data privacy laws would protect the U.S. residents using the app. 

“Our user data cannot simply be subpoenaed from the U.S.,” Clue said in a statement. The company is based in Berlin, Germany.

However, another menstrual tracking app, Flo, was earlier hit with a complaint from the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC alleged that the app shared users’ information with companies including Google and Facebook. 

On June 24, Flo tweeted that it would not sell users’ personal data. A day later, it announced a new feature.

“We will soon be launching an “Anonymous Mode” that removes your personal identity from your Flo account, so that no one can identify you,” the company tweeted

In 2017, a Mississippi woman who had a miscarriage was indicted on a second-degree murder charge after prosecutors used the mother’s search history to prove that she had looked for abortion pills online. Now, users fear that even their period tracking apps could be turned against them in court.

Tech sector dilemma

On the other side of the fence, the technology sector is also facing a dilemma. Many U.S. residents fear companies will be forced to submit pregnant users’ data to the legal authorities, when abortion bans are more strictly enforced.

In order to operate without legal complications, tech companies can choose to comply with search warrants, subpoenas, or legal requests for data. Digital surveillance activists are now watching Google, Meta Platforms Inc., and Inc. to study whether they will comply with the new ruling or not.

Director of Cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Eva Galperin, noted that users’ contact and friend lists, message contents, searches, location, health information, and metadata all needed to be protected by these companies. 

However, even that might not be enough.

“If tech companies don’t want to have their data turned into a dragnet against people seeking abortions and people providing abortion support, they need to stop collecting that data now. Don’t have it for sale. Don’t have it when a subpoena arrives,” Ms. Galperin tweeted on Friday.

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Printable version | Jun 27, 2022 5:22:26 pm |