Delete your menstrual app. Get a burner phone. How your digital data can be used against you in a post-Roe world.


This will also be true for those who experience a miscarriage. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, approximately 15% of all clinical pregnancies in this country end in miscarriage. For women over 40, that number is 40%. And doctors can’t tell if the first trimester bleeding and pregnancy loss is the result of a miscarriage or the abortion pill. So, in states where abortion is illegal, police and prosecutors investigating pregnancy loss must try to prove intent, essentially asking: was it an unfortunate accident or an intentional abortion?

Lawyers interviewed for this story say proving intent will likely involve interviewing “suspects” and examining their personal data – a dreadful scenario for anyone who has recently lost or terminated a pregnancy, regardless of the circumstances.

“So if there are texts on my phone asking if I want to have this child or if there is a Google search for abortion in my story,” Shachar says, tech companies may find themselves having to provide this information to the government. Zealous anti-abortion prosecutors can use this data and messages to prove that a woman requested an illegal abortion.

Prosecutors can also rely on data that women enter into a period tracker, fertility or health app. The information they find there could also be used to claim that a woman induced her own miscarriage.

“If I have an early-stage miscarriage and haven’t quit smoking or drinking, or even if I’ve just eaten a lot of fast food and haven’t taken my prenatal vitamins, does that make me guilty?” Shachar asks. “Does this take my miscarriage and make it a self-administered abortion?”

Just as pregnant women who use drugs today may find themselves charged with child abuse, prosecutors in the future may argue that certain behaviors during pregnancy amount to voluntary abortion.

“The last time abortion was illegal in the United States, we didn’t have devices to track our every move, collect our ambient data, law enforcement with sophisticated surveillance capabilities,” he said. tweeted the Wired science reporter. Victoria Elliot when news of Roe’s overthrow broke.

That’s not the future equity-minded tech pundits envisioned in 2015 when they finally convinced Apple to let women track their menstrual cycles on their iPhones. The previous year, Apple launched its built-in health feature with the promise of “monitoring your entire health,” but in practice, women found they could track everything about their bodies – from their heart rate to the quality of their sleep – except their period. . Complaints have been broadcast on Twitter. Opinion pieces were written.

A year later, Apple responded by integrating the Clue menstruation and fertility app, along with a few other reproductive health apps, into its health tracker. Critics of unfair technology — and millions of menstruating iPhone users — rejoiced. Now they could use that data to time intercourse around ovulation to get pregnant, or to skip intercourse during the fertile window to avoid pregnancy.

But like so many other consumer technologies, features that make life more convenient can become an invasion of privacy under certain political and legal conditions. For example, tech companies never intended metadata — the information that accompanies digital publications such as location, time, and device type — to serve the surveillance state, but it has been used. to that end with the post-9/11 Patriot Act. Similarly, apps that track women’s health data weren’t meant to encourage disenfranchisement, but here we are.

For now, tech companies that own and collect data on women have enormous power to protect them or not in abortion-related investigations.

“Do [tech companies] have a proactive responsibility to say, “Hey, in our text roundup, we saw this text and you should know that Jane Smith might be having an abortion, that’s not a miscarriage?” asks Shachar . “A lot of these tech companies are based in places like California, where they probably don’t support early bans. But how they would get away with providing this information would be another question.

There is a precedent where the government is forcing tech companies to release private user data. As Edward Snowden revealed in 2013, the National Security Agency has been using digital information from Americans in its intelligence operations, forcing tech companies to reveal details such as location patterns, interactions, and location. ‘hour.s phone calls and text messages. Companies like Google, Apple, Facebook usually comply with warrants and subpoenas asking for personal information about users.

Now, experts say, such practices could be used to expose someone looking for abortion information online in an anti-abortion state.

Eva Galperin, director of the privacy advocacy group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says the best and only way for companies to avoid being forced to provide data to the government is to stop collecting it.

“If tech companies don’t want their data to be turned into a net against people seeking abortions and people providing abortion support, they need to stop collecting that data now,” she said. tweeted. “I don’t have it for sale. Don’t have it when a subpoena comes.

Privacy-focused Internet services, such as Mozilla’s Firefox browser and the Duck Duck Go search engine, have long avoided the massive data-gathering practices common to Google and most technology platforms for precisely this reason. , because any mine of information can and will be exploited.

The Berlin-based fertility app Index assured US-based users that strict European privacy laws protect them. After the draft decision leaked in May, the company tweeted that it was “not authorized to disclose our users’ private data, regardless of where they live.” Whether the US government could compel a European company to produce information it holds on US residents is a thorny cross-jurisdictional issue.

Another complicating factor: the very development that users have been cheering for – the integration of Clue into Apple’s Heath app – could leave its users vulnerable during a data sweep. Be aware of Clue’s privacy policy: “Clue may interact with the Health app on your iOS device and read and/or write information between the Clue app and Health. This may include transferring your personal data to Apple servers located outside the European Union. In response to our request to better understand what this might mean for its US-based iPhone users, Clue told us that “we share as little data as possible from the safest way possible.” The company’s emailed statement concludes, “As we navigate this new reality, we promise to face the challenges it brings, to listen and to do whatever we can. we can to make every Clue user’s experience as positive and safe as possible.”

Whether or not you find the language of Clue reassuring, consider that most other applications and technology companies did not make such a commitment to protect the data of their users. Democrats in Congress are considering legislation that would protect health app data. The legislation would not extend to search engines and websites, however.

For now, says Harvard’s Shachar, “My best advice, even if a woman is having a miscarriage, let alone desperate and trying to figure out how to do a self-administered abortion, is to be familiar with VPNs and the dark web. and incognito searches.”

Catesby Holmes is a journalist whose work has appeared in Wired, Slate and Bloomberg News. Emily Dreyfuss is a writer and co-author of the upcoming book “Meme Wars: The Untold Stories of Online Battles Upending American Democracy.” Both authors are members of the Technology and Social Change team at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center.

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