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Friday, Aug 12, 2022

Senate Dems call out Apple, Google mobile tracking, warn of abortion-related data privacy risks

Senate Dems call out Apple, Google mobile tracking, warn of abortion-related data privacy risks

Letter comes amid growing privacy concerns around abortion-related data following Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling

Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren, Ron Wyden, Cory Booker and Congresswoman Sara Jacobs are urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Apple and Google for failing to warn consumers about the potential harms associated with advertising-specific tracking IDs in their mobile operating systems.

"These identifiers have fueled the unregulated data broker market by creating a single piece of information linked to a device that data brokers and their customers can use to link to other data about consumers," the lawmakers wrote in a letter Friday. "This data is bought or acquired from app developers and online advertisers, and can include consumers’ movements and web browsing activity."


While consumers can opt out of the tracking, they argue that Apple and Google have "enabled governments and private actors to exploit advertising tracking systems for their own surveillance and exposed hundreds of millions of Americans to serious privacy harms."

"The FTC should investigate Apple and Google’s role in transforming online advertising into an intense system of surveillance that incentivizes and facilitates the unrestrained collection and constant sale of Americans’ personal data," the letter continues. "These companies have failed to inform consumers of the privacy and security dangers involved in using those products. It is beyond time to bring an end to the privacy harms forced on consumers by these companies."

The letter places a particular emphasis on the potential vulnerability of individuals seeking abortions and other reproductive healthcare following the Supreme Court's decision on Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade.

"Data brokers are already selling, licensing, and sharing the location information of people that visit abortion providers to anyone with a credit card," the lawmakers state. "Prosecutors in states where abortion becomes illegal will soon be able to obtain warrants for location information about anyone who has visited an abortion provider. Private actors will also be incentivized by state bounty laws to hunt down women who have obtained or are seeking an abortion by accessing location information through shady data brokers."

A Google spokesperson told FOX Business that the company "never sells user data" and that Google Play strictly prohibits the sale of user data by developers.

"The advertising ID was created to give users more control and provide developers with a more private way to effectively monetize their apps," the tech giant added. "Any claims that advertising ID was created to facilitate data sales are simply false,"

In addition to the ability to delete the advertising ID at any time, Google has rolled out Privacy Sandbox on Android to limit data sharing with third parties. A spokesperson for Apple did not immediately return FOX Business' request for comment.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based digital privacy rights group, advises internet users who are concerned about their abortion-related data to carefully review privacy settings on the services they use, turn off location services on apps that don’t need them and use encrypted messaging services.

"Everyone deserves to have strong controls over the collection and use of information they necessarily leave behind as they go about their normal activities, like using apps, search engine queries, posting on social media, texting friends, and so on," EFF executive director Cindy Cohn and legal director Corynne McSherry said in a statement. "But those seeking, offering, or facilitating abortion access must now assume that any data they provide online or offline could be sought by law enforcement."

It also suggests that companies should protect users by allowing anonymous access, stopping behavioral tracking, strengthening data deletion policies, offering end-to-end and in transit encryption, preventing location tracking and ensuring that users get notice when their data is being sought.

In addition, the organization calls on state and federal policymakers to pass meaningful privacy legislation.

At least 13 states in the country have so-called "trigger laws" banning most abortions that will take effect immediately or within weeks of Roe v. Wade being overturned.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research group, those states are Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming, which just passed its trigger law in April.

There are also five additional states – Alabama, Arizona, Michigan, West Virginia and Wisconsin – that still have an abortion ban on the books from before Roe v. Wade that will go into effect now that the 1973 landmark law is overturned.

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