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After last month’s Supreme Court decision reversing Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling protecting the legal right to abortion, many people looked to the early 1970s to find out what life would be like without the long-standing precedent.
But access to abortion is very different in 2022, thanks in large part to technological innovations, including safe drugs used to induce abortion.
There are also new digital tools that can connect people to medical providers, friends, and other resources, making it much easier to find information about accessing abortions.
With the overturning of the landmark decision, many people are wondering for the first time whether the digital tools they use could put them or their loved ones at risk. Since the United States and most states do not have digital privacy laws to protect consumer information, it is often the responsibility of businesses and consumers themselves to protect their privacy online.
Here’s what to know about how digital tools collect data, how prosecutors may seek to use this information in abortion and pregnancy-related cases, and how consumers can be more attentive to data than ‘they share.
How digital tools collect and use your data
Digital tools may collect your data in various ways which can usually be found in their privacy policies. These often dense legal documents will tell you what types of data a given tool will collect about you (name, email, location, etc.) and how it will be used.
Consumers can search for words like “sell” and “affiliates” to get an idea of how and why their information might be shared with other services outside of the one they use directly, as the Washington Post recently reported. suggested in a guide to these documents. .
Some web pages may track your actions on the Internet using cookies or small snippets of code that help advertisers target you with information based on your past activity.
Apps on your phone may also collect location information depending on whether or not you have allowed them in your settings.
How to protect your information
The best way to protect any type of information on the Internet is to minimize the amount available. Some providers have recently taken steps to help consumers minimize their reproductive healthcare digital footprint.
Google said last week it would work to quickly remove location information from users who visit abortion clinics or other medical sites. It will also make it easier for users to delete multiple period data logs from its Fitbit app.
Period tracker app Flo recently added an anonymous mode that allows users to record their menstrual cycles without providing their names or contact details.
But it’s still largely up to consumers to protect their own information. Here are some ways users can protect the information they share online, whether it’s healthcare-related or not, based on advice from digital privacy experts like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Digital Defense. Fund:
- Use a encrypted messaging app like Signal to communicate on sensitive topics and set messages to delete after a set period of time. It also means that other members of your network are accessing the same application.
Enabling disappearing messages on an encrypted messaging app like Signal can help protect your conversations.
Lauren Feiner | Screenshot
- Turn off or limit location services on your phone to only necessary applications while you are using them.
- If you are visiting a sensitive place, remember to turn off your phone or leave it at home.
- When researching sensitive topics online, use a search engine and browser that minimize data collectionlike DuckDuckGo, Firefox or Brave.
- Use a private browsing tab so that your website history is not automatically saved.
- Use a virtual private network to conceal your device’s IP address.
- Disable your Mobile Ad ID which may be used by third-party marketers to track and profile you. The EFF has step-by-step instructions on how to do this on Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.
Disable app tracking on iOS for more privacy.
Lauren Feiner | Screenshot
- Set up a secondary email and phone numberlike via Google Voice, for sensitive topics.
How the data could be used in court
The risks of using digital tools by prosecutors in abortion or pregnancy loss cases are not theoretical.
In at least two high-profile cases in recent years, prosecutors have pointed to internet searches for abortion pills and digital messages between relatives to illustrate the intent of women accused of harming babies they claim to have. had a miscarriage.
These cases show that even tools not directly related to reproductive health care, such as period tracking apps, can become evidence in an abortion or pregnancy loss case.
It’s also important to know that law enforcement may try to get your information without accessing your devices. Prosecutors can seek court orders for companies whose services you use or relatives you’ve contacted about your digital whereabouts if they become the subject of a lawsuit.
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