Wyden, Colleagues Urge App-Store CEOs to Prohibit Data Practices Threatening Individuals Who Seek Abortion Services
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden and four Senate colleagues are urging Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Apple CEO Tim Cook to prohibit apps on the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store from using data mining practices that could facilitate the targeting of individuals seeking abortion services.
“This system of data collection and distribution has the potential to directly threaten individuals who exercise their right to choose,” Wyden and colleagues wrote in their letter to Google and Apple CEOs. “Should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, anti-abortion prosecutors and even vigilantes may be able to exploit online mining of data from apps on the Google Play Store [and App Store] to stop individuals from accessing abortion services or to target them retroactively. Information about app users’ fertility, browsing history indicating an interest in contraception, or location information showing that a user visited a gynecologist could become a data trove for actors who are intent on targeting, intimidating, and harming individuals who seek abortions or individuals who simply take steps to promote their reproductive health. [Policies] must require available apps to prohibit and protect against data practices that threaten individuals seeking abortion services.”
Apps available on the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store platforms may threaten the safety and privacy of individuals who seek abortion services by collecting, sharing and selling sensitive user data – like location, browsing history, health characteristics, and financial information.
In the letter, Wyden and colleagues call on the companies to review and update their policies on data use and distribution to safeguard the well-being of individuals seeking abortion services. The recent passage of a hyper-restrictive abortion law in Texas that incentivizes private citizens to bring lawsuits against abortion providers by promising a minimum $10,000 reward for successful cases further underlines the necessity of protections against harmful data practices.
The lawmakers ask the CEOs to answer to the safety of their users’ data, including making commitments to:
- Conducting a comprehensive review of app store policies regarding data practices, and to making any necessary adjustments to protect people seeking an abortion;
- Mandating that all apps require a prompt and clear pre-compliance notice to users of any government request for their data;
- Prohibiting all apps from requiring the sale of location data, health data, or biometric data in order to use the app;
- Making necessary technical updates to ensure that when a user denies or revokes consent for location data, health data or biometric data collection on a store’s app, the app is unable to collect the user’s location data, health data or biometric data;
- Making necessary technical updates to ensure that when a user provides consent for location data, health data, or biometric data collection only when an app is in use, the app is unable to collect the user’s location data, health data, or biometric data when the app is not in use.
The letter was led by U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey, D-Mass. Alongside Wyden, the letter was joined by U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Cory Booker, D-N.J.
The text of the letter is here.
Last week, Wyden called on Google to stop collecting and retaining location information, to prevent extremist prosecutors from using that information to identify people obtaining abortions.
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