In the United States, abortion is no longer a right that is guaranteed by the constitution. On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court overturned the precedent-setting Roe v. Wade decision, which not only made it possible for American states to outright prohibit the provision of abortion services within their borders but also paved the way for the criminalization of abortions.
Now, even your privacy is in jeopardy.
According to Farah Diaz-Tello, senior counsel and legal director of reproductive justice organization If/When/How, “one of many alarming aspects…is that it jettisons the concept that the right to privacy encompasses intimate decisions about how we live our lives unless it can be proven that the ability to make these decisions was legally protected at the time the relevant provision of the Constitution was written.”
So, in a post-Roe America, what should you do to safeguard your data?
What should be done
According to Caitlin Seeley George, campaign director for the digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future, “it should not be our individual responsibility to safeguard all of our data online,” in a statement to Mashable. We must act quickly and bravely to protect those who seek and provide abortions because the businesses that created the surveillance economy and the lawmakers who approved it have let us all down.
Fight for the Future outlined a number of legislative measures that the federal government could implement to safeguard the rights to digital privacy in a public statement. Rep. Sara Jacob’s “My Body, My Data” Act, which would establish a “new national standard to protect personal reproductive health data” and be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, has received support from the digital rights non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) (FTC). Both the EFF and Fight for the Future have urged tech companies to safeguard their users by ceasing the practice of gathering and storing such personal health data.
The government or tech companies cannot currently be relied upon to protect those seeking abortion care, despite the fact that those are issues worth fighting for. You can take action right away to safeguard your data.
You’ve probably heard the calls to delete your period tracking apps by this point. For these apps to provide data to law enforcement, there is no specific precedent. The issue is very real, though. Utilizing the FTC’s authority to safeguard user data is one strategy the Biden administration is already considering. Some app developers have previously said that they would share your data with many other tech companies in the same way that they share your data with them.
Disclosure: Everyday Health Group, a digital media company that manages the well-known pregnancy and period tracking apps BabyCenter and What To Expect, is owned by Mashable parent company Ziff Davis. Previous concerns about data tracking with these apps were raised by Forbes.
Mashable received the following statement from Christine Mattheis, vice president of content and brand solutions for Everyday Health Group:
Some of the most well-known names in pregnancy and parenting include BabyCenter and What to Expect, which offer reliable, current, and tools to families across the United States and the rest of the world. Our users put their trust in us to help them navigate every obstacle they may encounter during this momentous but vulnerable time in their lives.
By zealously safeguarding the information about our users, we uphold that trust. We constantly evaluate and improve our extensive information security and data privacy programs. The protection of reproductive health information has come under scrutiny due to legitimate concerns raised by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. In light of this modification, we are reassessing and enhancing the ways in which we safeguard our users’ personal information.
Our mission is centered on promoting maternal health and, consequently, reproductive health. We are still dedicated to providing women and families with care and support throughout every stage of parenthood.
The fact that pregnancy and period tracking apps are now reexamining their data collection and privacy policies is a good step. Mashable continues to advise users concerned about their data privacy as it relates to abortion care to exercise caution when using pregnancy and period tracking apps until the written terms are clear.
George told us, “Digital surveillance has grown into too big a problem for individuals to handle on their own. People may worry about their period tracker app, but it’s likely that every app on their phone is collecting data of some kind (location, biometric, health) that could be sold to law enforcement.
Law enforcement may still be able to seize your computer or smartphone and learn what you’ve been doing online and with whom you’ve been messaging, for instance, even if you deleted your period tracking app. They can also issue subpoenas to Google, Facebook, and any other tech company you use to get access to your search history, messages, and social media posts pertaining to abortion.
What you can do right away to safeguard yourself
Thus, simply uninstalling your period tracker app is insufficient. To monitor your sensitive personal online data, law enforcement may use a variety of tools, including apps. The best course of action is to begin being more cautious with your data in general, even when you’re not discussing activities related to reproductive or abortion care.
And fortunately, there are tried-and-true apps, services, and fundamental internet usage guidelines that you should use and abide by to protect your online privacy, thanks to everyone from corporate and governmental whistleblowers to sex workers.
When it comes to regular use, Firefox is the most secure mainstream web browser. There are several options and features that shield users from tracking or logging their web history. Since it is open-source, numerous users have scrutinized the code to ensure that the browser performs the tasks that users desire.
Tor Browser is a fantastic alternative for those who are a little more tech-savvy. Tor automatically deletes your web history and cookies, which are essentially tiny files that websites download to your computer to remember information about you for the next time you log in. Your IP address, which is a series of numbers used to identify a computer or network on the internet, can also be masked with Tor. Although the process will lengthen website loading times, it is a great privacy measure because it will obfuscate a direct link between a user and where they went online. Therefore, it might be best to use Tor for very specific browsing and search purposes.
Another privacy tool you should have in your arsenal is a VPN service, which prevents your Internet service provider from seeing your browsing history. Additionally, it conceals your IP address from websites that you visit. Although there are many trustworthy providers, some of which even offer a one-time payment for lifetime usage of the service, Mozilla, the company that created the Firefox browser, has its own VPN service.
Need a messaging service that will safeguard your correspondence? It is best to use a signal. End-to-end encryption (E2EE) is used by the service, so your messages only appear on the sender’s and recipient’s devices. Your messages are never seen by Signal’s servers, so Signal doesn’t keep a copy either. Additionally, Signal has been put to the test by giving law enforcement orders to turn over any data they may have. The only information Signal could give law enforcement was the time the user last logged in and the date the account was created.
Encryption doesn’t really help if law enforcement manages to get access to your actual device, as Sarah Morrison of Recode points out. Because of this, Signal’s feature of “disappearing messages” further solidifies its status as the top private messaging app. Users can specify a period of time before a message is deleted from the device of both the sender and the recipient using this feature.
If you’re concerned about your emails, Proton is an E2EE email provider that prioritizes privacy and performs functions similar to those of Signal for, well, your emails as well. It has long been a preferred email service for many journalists who frequently deal with sensitive information and work with whistleblowers.
No matter which services you choose, make sure to regularly clear your web browser’s cookies and history. As soon as you leave websites where you don’t want your browsing activity tracked, make sure all browser tabs are closed. Keep track of when you switch between devices as well. For instance, if your iPhone or Android device has location tracking turned on, using all these services on your desktop or laptop computer will be pointless. Make sure all of your privacy settings are set appropriately.