How Are Big Tech Companies Responding to Incoming Abortion Restrictions?

Headline Roundup July 5th, 2022

In the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, some Big Tech companies are reevaluating their data collection policies as certain states begin enforcing abortion restrictions.

Google announced last Friday that it would start automatically deleting users' location data when they visit abortion clinics and other "personal" places like domestic violence shelters and addiction treatment facilities. While many of the Big Tech companies said they would cover their employees' travel costs for out-of-state abortion procedures, they have been notably "hesitant" to take a position on collecting user data for potential tracking of abortions.

Big Tech platforms have traditionally accommodated law enforcement requests to share users' location data and personal information for legal purposes. In the first half of 2021, Google complied with 82% of the 50,907 government requests and up to 500 non-content FISA requests for the "disclosure of user information."

Many left-rated voices proposed that Americans should have a civil right to "intimate privacy" now that "anti-abortion vigilantes" can buy the location data of people who visit abortion clinics. Other left-rated reports highlighted how some period-tracking apps allow third-party companies to collect and store users' data. Conversely, many right-rated voices emphasized that it's "misleading" to believe that people are "proposing prosecutions" for women seeking abortions, suggesting that lawsuits will begin when patients are "dissatisfied with or harmed by abortions."

From the Center

America's new abortion reality is turning tech firms' data practices into an active field of conflict — a fight that privacy advocates have long predicted and company leaders have long feared.

Why it matters: A long legal siege in which abortion-banning states battle tech companies, abortion-friendly states and their own citizens to gather criminal evidence is now a near certainty.

  • The once-abstract privacy argument among policy experts has transformed overnight into a concrete real-world problem, superheated by partisan anger, affecting vast swaths of the U.S. population, with tangible and easily
  • ...
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From the Right

With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, many are asking how Big Tech companies will protect women's digital privacy. After all, some states are sure to enforce new abortion laws, and the reality behind everyone's modern digital trail could betray information about people going to get abortions.

"For years, privacy advocates have raised concerns about this massive data trove, full of private messages, political affiliations and even sensitive health data," the Washington Post notes. "Now that type of information could be used to find, arrest and prosecute those getting or abetting abortions."

What this fearmongering...

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From the Left

Following the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, advocates for privacy and reproductive health have expressed fears that data from period-tracking apps could be used to find people who’ve had abortions.

They have a point. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the federal patient privacy law known as HIPAA, does not apply to most apps that track menstrual cycles, just as it doesn’t apply to many health care apps and at-home test kits.

In 2015, ProPublica reported how HIPAA, passed in 1996, has not kept up with changes in technology and does not cover at-home paternity...

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