The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning people that devices and apps that gather people’s personal information, including their location and overall health, “may pose an incalculable risk” if they improperly share the information.
“The misuse of mobile location and health information — including reproductive health data — exposes consumers to significant harm,” the FTC wrote in a blog post on Monday. “Criminals can use location or health data to facilitate phishing scams or commit identity theft. Stalkers and other criminals can use location or health data to inflict physical and emotional injury. The exposure of health information and medical conditions, especially data related to sexual activity or reproductive health, may subject people to discrimination, stigma, mental anguish, or other serious harms.”
While the blog post does not specifically address the overturning of the landmark abortion ruling Roe v. Wad by the Supreme Court, it mentions sensitive data related to reproductive health and abortions several times.
Within the post, the FTC gave one example about a marketing company named Copley Advertising, LLC, that obtained personal health and location data from people living in Massachusetts. The company used technology to send targeted ads to individuals’ phones whenever they were near an abortion clinic — the ads offered “alternatives to abortion,” the FTC wrote.
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Last week, the White House encouraged Americans to “be really careful” when using period-tracking apps and making online searches for reproductive care in states with stringent abortion restrictions.
Jen Klein, director of the White House’s Gender Policy Council, advised caution for millions of Americans who use such apps during a press briefing last week, but did stop short of outright “directing” people to stop suing such apps.
Thirteen U.S. states have so-called trigger laws that would immediately ban abortion, and more states will ban or restrict abortions in the coming months. According to public-health think tank Guttmacher Institute, 40 million women will be impacted by states’ restrictions on abortion.
As MarketWatch’s Zoe Han reports, many women who live in states where abortion is restricted are worried that personal data harvested from period-tracking apps could be used as evidence if a woman seeks to terminate a pregnancy after a state’s deadline for legal abortions has passed.
President Biden signed an executive order on July 8 that aims to protect some access to abortion for Americans in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe. Biden’s order attempts to broaden the ability of women to travel across state lines to access clinical abortion services, an Associated Press story indicated.
“This is a moment to restore the rights that have been taken away from us,” Biden said about the order.
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Prior the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, polling showed a majority of Americans wanted Roe to remain intact. According to a January poll from CNN, 69% of Americans wanted to keep Roe as law, while 30% wanted the ruling completely overturned.
Polling on abortion has remained fairly consistent for over 20 years. Since 1989, between 52% and 66% of U.S. adults have stated they want Roe to remain in place, according to polling conducted and compiled by Gallup.