FTC warns of ‘incalculable risk’ of period-tracking apps after Roe ruling

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning people that devices and apps that collect people’s personal information, including their location and general health, “may pose an incalculable risk” if they share the information in a way inappropriate.

“The misuse of mobile location and health information — including reproductive health data — exposes consumers to significant harm,” the FTC wrote in a Monday blog post. “Criminals can use location or health data to facilitate phishing scams or commit identity theft. Stalkers and other criminals can use location or health data to inflict physical and emotional harm. exposure of health information and medical conditions, particularly data related to sexual activity or reproductive health, may expose individuals to discrimination, stigma, mental anguish or other serious harm.

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Although the blog post does not specifically address the overturning of the landmark abortion decision Roe v. Wad by the Supreme Court, he repeatedly mentions sensitive data related to reproductive health and abortions.

In the message, the FTC gave an example of a marketing company named Copley Advertising, LLC, which obtained personal health and location data from people living in Massachusetts. The company used the technology to send targeted ads to individuals’ phones whenever they were near an abortion clinic – the ads offered “alternatives to abortion,” the company wrote. FTC.

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The White House last week urged Americans to “be very careful” when using period-tracking apps and researching reproductive care online in states with strict abortion restrictions. .

Jen Klein, director of the White House Gender Policy Council, advised caution to the millions of Americans who use such apps during a press briefing last week, but refrained from outright “directing” people to stop continuing these applications.

Thirteen US states have so-called trigger laws that would ban abortion immediately, and more states will ban or restrict abortions in the coming months. According to the public health think tank Guttmacher Institute, 40 million women will be affected by state restrictions on abortion.

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As MarketWatch’s Zoe Han reports, many women who live in abortion-restricted states worry that personal data collected from period-tracking apps could be used as evidence if a woman seeks to terminate a pregnancy. after a state’s time limit for legal abortions has expired.

President Biden signed an executive order on July 8 to protect some access to abortion for Americans following the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe. Biden’s order attempts to expand women’s ability to cross state lines to access clinical abortion services, an Associated Press report said.

“Now is the time to restore the rights that were taken away from us,” Biden said of the order.

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Prior to Roe v. Wade from the Supreme Court, a poll showed a majority of Americans want Roe to remain intact. According to a January CNN poll, 69% of Americans wanted to keep Roe as law, while 30% wanted the decision overturned altogether.

Abortion polls have remained fairly consistent for over 20 years. Since 1989, between 52% and 66% of American adults have said they want Roe to stay put, according to a poll conducted and compiled by Gallup.

Lance B. Holton