Abortion in the United States: How period apps could be used to track women

UNITED STATES – “If you use a menstrual tracking app, or if you use your phone to do so, stop and delete your data. Now”, warned Elizabeth McLaughlin, an American pro-abortion activist, on Twitter on May 3. His post has been shared over 70,000 times.

Her appeal followed the shock release of a Supreme Court draft proposing to strike down the right to abortion in the United States. Ten days later, the possible use of personal data extracted from phone applications to track women who have abortions has become one of the fears of “pro-choice” who are demonstrating across the country this Saturday, May 14 to defend the right to ‘abortion.

Several million women around the world use applications such as Flo, Clue or Ovia to track their menstrual cycle. By entering information such as the duration and date of their last period, the color of the blood, specifying their flow or even their libido, they try to know in advance when they will have their next period or use it to calculate their period of fertility. The app, which analyzes the data, thus knows when a woman should have her period, if she is late, if she does not have it. And so, if she is pregnant or not anymore.

It is precisely these data that could be used by the American authorities. “The data collected could be used either to identify women who have abortions, or as proof that a woman has resorted to abortion in a future where it is criminalized”, alarms on the site TechCrunch Eva Galperin, member of the NGO for the protection of freedoms on the Internet, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The police could recover the personal data

Indeed, the personal data entered in these applications does not fall under the scope of the HIPAA law which regulates the sharing of private health information in the United States. Health apps therefore have the right to sell user data to third parties, in particular companies that can use it for targeted advertising, for example.

Apps, such as those for menstrual cycle tracking, can also give information to law enforcement as part of an investigation if they request it. India McKinney, also a member of the EFF, remarks on the site of the New Scientist that the authorities could even have access to the data without a warrant or court order. All the police have to do is buy them and they assure them, “it’s legal”.

Above all, it is very easy to do. To prove it, the site Vice bought for 160 dollars (150 euros) from SafeGraph, a firm that collects and then resells location data, a list of people who have visited family planning over a week. This data specified where it came from, how long it stayed, and where it went next.

These weaknesses in data protection mean that if the Supreme Court upholds the end of abortion rights, details of a woman’s menstrual cycle using Flo or Clue could be bought or taken by police in anti-abortion states. , in order to prove that she had recourse to abortion and condemn her.

The Supreme Court will rule this summer

Moreover, as shown Vice, anyone can acquire the data for a derisory price. This raises serious questions in the case of Texas, where the law promises $10,000 to citizens who file a complaint against a person or organization that participated in an abortion. In this state, abortion is prohibited after six weeks of pregnancy.

However, menstrual cycle tracking apps are not the only ones to worry about. Evan Greer, director of the NGO Fight for the Future, tells NPR that there are different ways to connect someone to abortion since many companies sell their users’ data. Evan Greer gives the example of a woman waiting in the waiting room of a clinic where abortion is performed. If she plays on her phone via an application that retrieves her location and this data is sold, a direct link could be made between her and the abortion.

Overall, all technologies, telephones, computers or other tablets could become a source of information with search histories or messages sent. Not all anti-abortion laws have been passed or even drafted, but in very conservative states, just “searching the internet for a clinic could be banned,” warns Alan Butler, the president of Electronic Privacy. Information Center at Washington Post.

The Supreme Court’s decision is expected in late June or early July. If it overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade, abortion could be banned directly in 13 states. While waiting for this potential earthquake which would further divide American society, many experts are asking applications to reflect on the consequences of their practices. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published an article for “products and services” in which it lists a dozen tips to “minimize the damage that can be caused”.

See also also on The Huffpost: In the United States, thousands of demonstrators march for the right to abortion

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