Data Brokers Selling Whether You Went To Planned Parenthood? Elizabeth Warren's NOT HAVING IT.
In the not too distant future, Roe v. Wade is likely to be overturned and abortion will become illegal in many states across the country. Moreover, in overturning Roe, the Supreme Court will determine that Americans have pretty much no constitutional right to privacy, a thing that should probably concern all of us, even those who delight in the idea of forced birth. With both of these things in play, we have to hope that our elected officials will do what they can to continue to protect our personal and medical privacy.
Several recent journalistic investigations have looked into the way data brokers have been selling our location and health information to anti-choice "crisis pregnancy centers" and even going so far as to actually create "heat maps" of where people have visited abortion clinics.
Anti-abortion websites have also been able to obtain information about internet users who have looked up information about the procedure and then target them with anti-choice propaganda.
Via The Reveal:
In recent years, crisis pregnancy centers have become increasingly savvy about targeting people using sophisticated digital tools and infrastructure. Heartbeat International, for example, has developed suites of products to help individual centers improve their online presence, digital advertising and data management. These online tools enable the centers to amass highly personal information, including medical histories, details about prior pregnancies and even ultrasound photos, and store and share that information with networks of anti-abortion partners.
As Heartbeat International says on its webpage marketing its data management system: “Big data is revolutionizing all sorts of industries. Why shouldn’t it do the same for a critical ministry like ours?”
While Facebook says that gathering information about sexual health is against their policies, a joint investigation by The Markup and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found that Crisis Pregnancy Centers have been sending Facebook information on those who visit their sites, including names, telephone numbers and whether or not they are looking to have an abortion or get birth control.
This information comes from a tracking tool called Meta Pixel, which websites can choose to install or not install, that tracks what people do on those websites, thus helping businesses determine who to target with ads on Facebook. We've all seen it before. We look at a pair of shoes online and then get followed around the internet by those shoes. But with the crisis pregnancy centers, this allows them to craft advertising campaigns designed to deter people from having abortions, and if Roe is overturned, this same information could be used to investigate and arrest those suspected of having one.
Elizabeth Warren's not having it. Senator Warren, along with Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Patty Murray (D-Washington), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), introduced the Health and Location Data Protection Act this week, aimed at keeping our personal information personal. Barring a few limited exceptions, the bill would “ban data brokers from selling or transferring location data and health data” to anyone.
“Data brokers profit from the location data of millions of people, posing serious risks to Americans everywhere by selling their most private information,” Senator Warren said in a statement. “With this extremist Supreme Court poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and states seeking to criminalize essential health care, it is more crucial than ever for Congress to protect consumers’ sensitive data. The Health and Location Data Protection Act will ban brokers from selling Americans’ location and health data, rein in giant data brokers, and set some long overdue rules of the road for this $200 billion industry.”
Specifically, it would
- Ban data brokers from selling or transferring location data and health data and require the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to promulgate rules to implement the law within 180 days, while making exceptions for HIPAA-compliant activities, protected First Amendment speech, and validly authorized disclosures.
- Ensure robust enforcement of the bill’s provisions by empowering the FTC, state attorneys general, and injured persons to sue to enforce the provisions of the law.
- Provide $1 billion in funding to the Federal Trade Commission over the next decade to carry out its work, including the enforcement of this law.
“When abortion is illegal, researching reproductive health care online, updating a period-tracking app, or bringing a phone to the doctor’s office all could be used to track and prosecute women across the U.S. It amounts to uterus surveillance. Congress must protect Americans’ privacy from abuse by far-right politicians who want to control women’s bodies." said Senator Wyden in a statement.
READ MORE!: Data About Your Period Is For Sale
But this is important not just for those seeking abortions, but for those who feel violated by the idea that anyone can find out where they have been, what doctors they have seen, and other highly sensitive information. One would imagine this would include practically all Americans.
As hard as it is to imagine that this is the kind of thing any American would have a problem with, there are, unsurprisingly, people in Warren's mentions who are not only all upset about how this would serve to protect those who are seeking abortions, but because they think it is a plot to steal the next election. This is because Dinesh D'Souza's "documentary" 2000 Mules uses location data to claim that people who walked by voting drop boxes on more than one occasion were secretly dropping off piles of fake ballots for Joe Biden during the 2020 election, and they assume that Democrats are very threatened by this incredible revelation.
\u201c@SenWarren Abortion clinics and voting drop boxes #2000mules. Gotta squelch that ASAP.\u201d— Elizabeth Warren (@Elizabeth Warren) 1655302544
Yep, in this case, the conspiracy theorists. are in favor of more government surveillance and less privacy. You think they'd consider the ways their own "highly sensitive personal information" could be used against them, or that the people who erroneously screamed "HIPAA violations!" over vaccine requirements might not want to make it so easy to find out their personal medical information, but they'd apparently rather "own the libs."
Though to be fair, there were several rightwing Twitter users who were confused by the fact that Democrats would be supporting a right-to-privacy bill when their pundits have told them that "the Govt Democrats DREAM of, would have EVERY American monitored 24x7x52 by a KGB-like National Police Force!!" Gee, it's almost as if they have been lied to. Strange on how they can never settle on whether we're defunding the police or doing ... whatever it is that person thinks we are into.
These wackos aside, hopefully this is something we can all come together on, because whether one went to Planned Parenthood looking to get an abortion or to a podiatrist to treat their foot fungus or a proctologist for literally any reason we might go see a proctologist, our personal medical business should remain our personal medical business.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse