Senators want Google and Apple to protect abortion seekers

Democratic senators from Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont and New Jersey have sent letters to Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and Apple CEO Tim Cook, urging them to limit the amount of data apps collect on their platforms allowed to protect people who are seeking an abortion.

“Following the leak of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion overthrowing Roe v. Wade,” the senators said to say(Opens in a new window)“We fear that prosecutors against abortion and other actors will seek to access and use personal information – including location, online activity, health and biometrics – in ways that jeopardize the well-being of those exercising their right to vote .”

Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) sent the letters to Pichai and Cook on May 27. The letters are identical except for specific references to the Google Play Store and the App Store.

Senators warn: “Should the Supreme Court rule on Roe v. Wade, anti-abortion prosecutors and even vigilante groups could exploit online mining of data from apps” on the companies’ platforms “to deny individuals access to abortion services or to prevent them from retrospectively targeting them.” They want that Pichai and Cook protect their users by preventing this data mining.

These safeguards could prove crucial if Roe v. Wade is lifted. Motherboard reported in May on data brokers selling information people who come to visit(Opens in a new window) Abortion clinics – with one Provision of “heat maps”(Opens in a new window) of where such people live – and people who Use period tracking apps(Opens in a new window). Some have stopped peddling that data(Opens in a new window) if pressed, but others resell it.

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“Information about app users’ fertility, browsing history indicating an interest in contraception, or location information showing that a user has visited a gynecologist could become a data source for actors who aim to target individuals, intimidate and harm those who seek an abortion, or those who do simply take steps to promote their reproductive health,” the senators say.

Markey, Warren, Sanders and Booker asked Pichai and Cook to answer a series of seven questions by June 17 about their platforms’ policies and how those policies are enforced. Neither company immediately responded to a request for comment.

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