Most apps dedicated to reproductive health have done little to prepare for what to do if law enforcement comes looking for user information, according to a new survey.
The survey, conducted by the non-profit Mozilla Foundation, which also owns the Firefox browser and is committed to a healthy internet, found that only one in 25 apps that track users’ periods, their pregnancies or your physical form has clearly written policies that explain specific scenarios. in which they would transfer user data.
While the types of data these apps contain have typically not been used in abortion lawsuits, privacy experts say these companies should have clear policies before law enforcement requests the data.
Pregnancy data has become a hot topic following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which had made access to abortion a federally protected right.
Jen Caltrider, who led the Mozilla study, said the other 24 apps either relied on vague guarantees or didn’t make their policies clear.
“When a company says it can share your personal information if there’s a possibility of harm to the user or others, does a fetus count? It gets very gray,” Caltrider said.
In many states, it can be confusing what exactly constitutes a criminal abortion. Many reproductive rights advocates called for people to delete period tracking apps for fear they could be used against users.
In known cases that relied on digital evidence to prove abortion-related crimes, prosecutors tended to rely on unencrypted conversations to show that suspects had told others they had sought and obtained an abortion.
In a recent criminal abortion case in Nebraska, which began before Roe was overturned and is still ongoing, prosecutors acquired unencrypted Facebook messages in which a woman allegedly sent messages to her then minor daughter on how to take pills for a medical abortion. In an affidavit used as evidence, the detective who investigated the case also said he obtained evidence that the daughter had previously been pregnant, although he did not clarify how he confirmed this.
The detective notified Facebook of a court order. Like almost all tech companies, Facebook hands over the information it stores about users if legally required to.
In some cases, however, companies don’t even require a warrant before handing over user data to the police. Amazon, for example, has a policy of turning over Ring camera video to police in emergency situations involving “imminent danger” and when “there is insufficient time to obtain a warrant.”
Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for digital rights, said that while protecting communications is the most pressing privacy need for people seeking abortions, apps that track reproductive health should also start taking better care. of user data.
“I really want all industries to improve their practices, because I think if we cut off the kind of data that law enforcement can easily get from Meta or a telco, they’re going to start shaking trees and sending orders to the health tracking app. manufacturers,” Galperin said.
“It is good that companies change their practices now, because change takes time. Companies are giant ships, and turning them around is slow work. So they have to start now or they won’t be ready when the orders start coming in,” he said.
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