December 9, 2023

Tech companies are scrambling to adjust their data privacy practices in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Raw vs. Wade Abortion is subsequently criminalized in many states, as the larger public realizes that data collected by those services can be used to prosecute abortion seekers. Google, for example, recently announced that It will delete the location data automatically If people visit medical facilities, including abortion clinics (they, of course, still collect this data). The Flo period tracker app offersunknown statuswhich are supposed to allow users to delete any identifiable information from their profiles.

If you never cared about how and why you were constantly monitored online before, you probably have a lot of questions about how all of this works now – especially when it comes to reproductive health data and what can be used against you. We’ve answered some of those questions here, from how scared you are of period apps to what you can do to keep your life as private…as private as possible, anyway.

Should I delete the period app?

This seems to be the biggest question people ask about online privacy regarding Ro Reflection, reversal, inversion. The short answer is yes. If you want to keep your reproductive and menstrual data private – especially if you’re concerned about this data being part of a criminal investigation – don’t put it in an app.

The longer answer is that when it comes to online and health privacy, deleting a period tracker app is like taking a teaspoon of water from the ocean. The current concern about period applications is understandable, given the purpose they serve. But it is also short-sighted. There are endless and more effective ways interested parties can track your pregnancy status (pregnant fathers buy a lot of things, so knowing when someone is pregnant to target them with ads can be profitable) and law enforcement can do more if they are. Investigate you to obtain an abortion in a situation where it is illegal (more on that later). The data from the period tracker app will only tell them so much, it will only tell them the information you gave them.

However, menstrual or fertility tracker apps have a bad reputation when it comes to privacy, and they deserve it. flow He was arrested once Send data to various third parties including Facebook and Google, despite their privacy policies indicating that they will not. radiate was immersed For “serious privacy and basic security failure”. stardust subscriber Users’ phone numbers are with a third party, and “end-to-end encryption” claims have been undone.

since opinion draft pointing to Ro Its leak will be reversed in May, period apps have come under more scrutiny than ever before, and many of them are quick to assure users That their data is secure or they are doing more protection. While some period trackers better than othersThe only way to make sure that no one can get anything about you from a period application is to not use it at all.

Are there other ways to track my period that might be safer than a period app?

yes. People have been in menstruation for as long as people have been around. Time period apps, smartphones, and even the internet only existed for a fraction of that time. If you track your cycle on a paper calendar, for example, this data will not be sent to third parties or stored in some companies’ cloud for law enforcement to access. Digital calendars also exist, such as Google Calendar and Apple’s iCal. You might feel better about those because they aren’t explicitly for period tracking, and Google and Apple don’t send your data to third parties as some period apps do. But this does not mean that the data is completely protected, as I will explain later.

You can also use apps that don’t upload your information to the cloud, like Consumer Reports I suggested. This data can still be accessed if someone can control the device they are working on, but this also applies to paper calendars.

Well, I deleted the period app. I’m totally prepared when it comes to abortion data now, right?

It’s understandable why people focus on period apps. They deal specifically with reproductive health, and deleting the app gives people what appears to be a quick and simple solution and a sense of agency. But the truth is, period tracker apps are pretty low on the list of things to worry about when it comes to online privacy and abortion. You can delete an app, but that won’t make the entire ecosystem built on knowing as much about you as possible disappear. If abortion is illegal where you live and law enforcement is investigating you for the possibility that you might get one, even the most privacy-centric companies can be forced to give law enforcement any data they have about you. And you may have to give them any data you have, too.

Let’s look at Google, because it probably has more data about you than anyone else. Depending on which of its services you use (or which of its services, the applications you use, or the websites you visit) Google knows a lot about you, such as where you go, what you look for on the Internet, the websites you visit, the emails you send and receive, and messages The text you send, and the photos you take. Google does not necessarily want to share this data with anyone else, because being the sole owner of it is one of Google’s competitive advantages. And he wouldn’t hand it over to, say, an anti-abortion group looking to arm him.

But Google has no choice if law enforcement requests it and gets the appropriate court order for it. this In its privacy policy: “We will share personal information outside of Google if we have a good faith belief that access, use, retention or disclosure of the information is reasonably necessary to satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process, or enforceable governmental request.”

Every other company will have a copy of this item. Even Apple, which has a better reputation for privacy than its Big Tech peers, will give the data to the police if it is forced to do so. When she refused to help the FBI gain access to iPhones owned by suspected terrorists, it was because Apple didn’t have a backdoor in its devices and wouldn’t make one. But any data those people uploaded to iCloud, such as the backups to those devices—that is, data that Apple itself owns— she did provide.

Google responded, for what it deserves, for Ro News by announcing that it will automatically delete location data about certain places, such as abortion or fertility clinics. This must mean the police can’t get it because there is nothing for them to get. But there is still plenty of evidence that can incriminate them that they can find.

What are the chances of law enforcement actually doing any of this?

We don’t know if and how law enforcement will prosecute abortion seekers, but we do know how they obtained the data and used it to prosecute others. This includes the case of the woman who was Suspect For killing her child immediately after his birth, and another woman accused of committing it deliberately incitement miscarriage. In those cases, texts, internet searches, and emails taken from the women’s phones were used as evidence against them. There is no indication that the police will not do the same when investigating people suspected of obtaining illegal abortions now.

What about the data that NGOs can obtain?

When Ro The reversal decision was leaked first, and there was many of Stories It just shows how much of your data is in the hands of random data brokers and how easy it is for that data to fall into the hands of anyone else. This data is “non-identifiable”, but depending on what data is collected and shared maybe To get to know someone from him. For example, last year, a chaplain was exposed through data from Grindr. (One important caveat: while the post it disclosed said the data it used was “commercially available,” it never said it got this data from its purchase.)

The possibility of a private party buying the data and being able to find out that you had an abortion and who you are, frankly, is very remote. They are the people who have access to the most specific and sensitive data – the police – you should worry about whether abortion is illegal where you live. But nothing is impossible, especially when so much of our data is sent to so many places.

Isn’t my medical information protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)?

Maybe not as much as you think. First of all, HIPAA does not cover every medical or health-related service. Those anti-abortion pregnancy centers collect a lot of sensitive reproductive health data, and they are may not be subject to to HIPAA’s privacy rules, even if they perform medical procedures – and even if they refer to HIPAA in their privacy policies.

But let’s say you see a provider that is a covered entity. Then, yes, your health information is protected. Unless you’re breaking the law, in which case the police may be able To get those records or specific details in them. Recently released by the Department of Health and Human Services, which enforces HIPAA New instructions On Reproductive Health Care Disclosures in Response to Ro Reflection, emphasizing that such disclosures can only be made under very specific circumstances.

How can I protect my data? What about privacy apps like Signal?

Again, what data law enforcement or data brokers can get you for depends on what you offer them. Google can only give the police what they have. Services like Signal and Proton that use end-to-end encryption and don’t store your data have nothing you give the police no matter how many guarantees they are given. But if you have that data on your device and the police have access to that, it won’t give you all the end-to-end encryption in the world. That’s why Signal, for example, offers a feature called disappear messages, which will permanently delete messages in a chat after a set amount of time from every device in the chat.

There are also things you can do to prevent your data from being collected, but it may include steps and more technical know-how than you’d like or know how to take. This is especially true if you’re only trying to figure it out when the need for privacy suddenly arises and you have other things to worry about – like when you’re dealing with an unwanted pregnancy.

Which means your best bet is to read and learn about these actions now, when you have the time and emotional bandwidth to figure out what you can and want to do and practice incorporating them into your daily life. Some of them may not be as difficult or inaccessible as you think, especially when you do them often enough to become automatic.

the edge recently published Some good and clear advice. Electronic Frontier Foundation He has a clue. wizmodo How privacy It tells you all the things you can do and why you should do them. Nothing is foolproof in a world with few privacy protections and an economy based on hidden data collection, but these are the actions you can take that will drastically reduce the exposure of your data.

what can I do?

The best privacy protections are the ones our government hasn’t given us yet: data privacy laws. The Ro The coup has made the consequences of not having it more obvious than ever, and lawmakers have already done it inserted Senate and House Invoices Specifically processing health data in response to a decision. You can get your representatives to support and pay these bills to pass, plus some wider consumer privacy bills that have been introduced (or will be presented soon). These may limit the data companies can share or sell to other companies, and even the data they can collect in the first place.

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