After Roe overturned, tech giants face scrutiny for location data

Lawmakers fear prosecutors in states where abortion is becoming illegal may be able to obtain warrants for location information about people who have been to an abortion clinic.

WASHINGTON — After the Supreme Court ended constitutional protections for abortion, four Democratic lawmakers are asking federal regulators to investigate Apple and Google for allegedly deceiving millions of cellphone users by collecting and selling their personal information.

Friday’s conservative-majority court decision in Roe v. Repealing Wade is expected to lead to abortion bans in about half the states. Privacy experts say this could leave women vulnerable, as their personal information could be used to monitor pregnancies and shared with the police or sold to vigilante groups. Online searches, period apps, fitness trackers, and counseling hotlines could become rich sources of data for such monitoring efforts.

The request for an investigation into the two California-based tech giants came in a letter to Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Lina Khan on Friday. It was signed by Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Rep. Sara Jacobs of California. It was sent out just before the Supreme Court announced its decision to overturn the 1973 precedent, noting that the court was likely to do so.

“Individuals seeking abortions and other reproductive health care become particularly vulnerable to data breaches, including through the collection and sharing of their location data,” lawmakers said in the letter. “Data brokers already sell, license and share the location information of people who visit abortion providers with anyone who has a credit card.”

They said prosecutors in states where abortion is becoming illegal may soon be able to obtain warrants for location information on anyone who has visited an abortion provider.

“Private actors are also incentivized by state bounty laws to prey on women who have received or are seeking an abortion by accessing location information through shady data brokers,” lawmakers wrote.

They asked Khan to investigate Apple’s and Google’s practices in handling cell phone users’ data in general. They accused the companies of “employing unfair and deceptive practices by enabling the collection and sale of hundreds of millions of personal identifiable information from mobile phone users.”

The companies “knowingly facilitated” the malicious practices by embedding location identifiers used for advertising in their cellphone operating systems, lawmakers said.

FTC spokesman Peter Kaplan confirmed the agency received the letter but said there would be no comment on it.

Apple and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The lawmaker’s letter noted that Apple and Google are now allowing consumers to opt out of data tracking. However, it says that until recently, Apple enabled Tracking ID by default, prompting consumers to dig through confusing phone settings to turn it off. Google still enables it by default and didn’t even allow consumers to opt out until recently, the letter said. After Roe overturned, tech giants face scrutiny for location data

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