Senators Push FTC To Protect Location Data Of Abortion Clinic Visitors
from the how-many-warnings-are-we-going-to-need dept
Earlier in May, Motherboard showcased how it was relatively trivial to buy the location data of cellphone users that had visited abortion clinics across the U.S. As states criminalize getting abortions (and helping people get abortions), there’s valid concern that our rampant failure to secure user location data will be abused in new and exceptionally terrible ways, both by state leaders and newly emboldened vigilantes.
As such, 16 Senators wrote the FTC this week asking it to explain what it’s doing to ensure that the location data of those visiting abortion clinics won’t be abused:
“We write to express serious concerns regarding recent reports identifying data brokers buying and selling location data that include personal data related to family planning and abortion services. We respectfully request additional information on what steps the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is taking to ensure data brokers are not collecting, buying, or selling sensitive location data that put people, particularly those seeking medical attention, at risk.”
The problems with the rampant over-collection and sale of user location data have been well documented.
This data has routinely been abused by everybody from stalkers to law enforcement and those pretending to be law enforcement. The data, collected by wireless companies, app makers, OS makers and others, is routinely bought and sold up and down a major chain of different companies and data brokers with nothing even vaguely resembling meaningful oversight.
When scandals happen (pretty much weekly), the companies involved in the collection and sale of said data argue that it’s no big deal because the data is “anonymized,” a generally useless term that doesn’t actually mean much. When government accountability happens, it generally involves wrist slaps and fines that are a tiny fraction of the money made from the practice.
Motherboard highlighted not only how several companies were trafficking in the sale of location data of abortion clinic visitors, but were also openly selling lists of users who had downloaded period tracking apps. It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to see how the current trajectory we’re on could get very ugly, very quickly, in states where authoritarianism and a total disdain for privacy rights collide.