Women Face New Privacy Fears With Abortion Rights Threatened

Data from web searches, smartphone location pings and online purchases can all be easily obtained with little to no safeguards

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In the wake of the leaked Supreme Court draft that would overturn Roe v. Wade, many women say they're confronting new privacy fears brought on by modern technology and the bounty that some states are putting on information about women visiting clinics.

Between smartphones, software in computers and cars, and cameras just about everywhere, just about everyone can be tracked every day. For some, that's suddenly a lot more troubling in a climate where at least one state is now offering financial incentives to those who prevent someone from getting an abortion.

While abortion rights advocates make their voices heard outside the Supreme Court, there are concerns about how quiet women will have to be when it comes to obtaining legal abortions in the future.

"A new level of threat to women's autonomy and safety," said Irina Raicu, director of internet ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

As Raicu points out, tracking apps and software are now a potential danger to women who want their actions to stay private.

Even with physical buffer zones around some clinics, technology has no such boundaries.

"If you are a woman who is just searching for information online, you should be worried now," Raicu said. "If you are a woman who is going to Planned Parenthood for whatever reason, you have to be more careful now."

Companies like SafeGraph, which started in the California Bay Area, was recently called out for its ability to track women as they visit Planned Parenthood clinics.

After backlash, SafeGraph said it adjusted its tech and released a statement saying, "We're removing Patterns data for locations classified as Family Planning Centers .. to curtail any potential misuse of its data."

The leaked draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade is sparking conversations about data privacy. If the opinion is released and abortion is criminalized in some states, some reproductive rights groups fear that text messages, search histories, ad tracking data and app usage history could put people who seek an abortion at risk.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation said that's just one example of what's out there.

"Our phones track us, Google tracks us, Apple tracks us, a ton of the apps on your phone track you as you go about your world," India McKinney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation said.

McKinney explained how people can fight back.

"Things like putting your phone on airplane mode when you're going to a location that you don't want to be tracked, making sure that you're using end-to-end encryption services when you're sending messages to people that you don't want anybody else to see," she said.

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