1. Analysis
July 1, 2022

Why the Roe V Wade reversal should make you worry about privacy

Market watchers, analysts and human right groups warn that the abortion ban should make you very concerned

By Eric Johansson

The US Supreme Court overturned Roe V Wade in June. The top federal judiciary branch suspending the right to abortion derived from the 1973 landmark ruling has raised privacy concerns among market watchers, pro-abortion and privacy advocacy groups.

“If you are seeking an abortion in the US these days your privacy is extremely important, more important than ever because your digital data could become evidence [and] incriminate people,” Laura Petrone, principal thematic analyst at GlobalData, said in a new podcast from the research firm.

It’s clear why people should be worried about their privacy following the overturn of Roe V Wade. The decision to revoke the federal protections of women seeking abortions has direct consequences to the data-driven advertising industry, privacy, data ethics and the future of privacy regulation at large.

Arielle Garcia, chief privacy officer of UM Worldwide, argued in an opinion piece in June in The Drum that Big Tech titans have a responsibility to safeguard people’s privacy in the aftermath of the Roe V Wade reversal.

Garcia feared the Roe V Wade reversal could put people’s privacy at risk by making the data obtained by social media giants free to purchase by authorities looking to prosecute those either seeking or aiding in abortions.

“We cannot ignore the reality of the role that the advertising industry plays in the collection, creation and proliferation of the type of data that enables tracking and profiling beyond the context of marketing,” Garcia said. “We cannot frame the issue as one of ‘intent’ and ‘reasonable use’ at the expense of considering impact. Sensitive user data, in the hands of those who intend to use it in ways that contradict the reasonable expectations of users or the corporate values of the data collection, risks harming people in a way that undermines civil liberties and could contravene human rights.”

Big Tech has rushed to support Roe V Wade

At least 13 states are expected to begin enforcing so-called “trigger laws” in the next month. These laws have been passed in anticipation of the Roe V Wade reversal. The trigger laws will make it illegal to seek or aide an abortion. Silicon Valley has, however, offered to help staff members looking to get around the rules.

“Big tech companies all rushed to show their support following the supreme court decision,” said Petrone, adding that they hadn’t made any announcement on how data privacy would be handled after the Roe V Wade reversal.

Companies like Meta, Yelp, Uber, Duolingo and Apple offered their support to employees seeking medical treatment such as abortions, including reimbursing them if they needed to travel out of state to get one.

“There hasn’t been any reassurances that this data won’t be used to actually criminalise people seeking or providing abortion,” Petrone said.

She also called on Big Tech firms to up their efforts to remove misinformation about abortions on their platforms.

Meta’s abortion backlash

Facebook owner Meta has faced a backlash of sorts for how it has handled the Roe V Wade situation so far. Part of the criticism comes after Meta reportedly told employees not to discuss the Roe V Wade reversal on the company’s internal communications channels.

Meta also faced pushback after it started to take down posts about abortion pills on Facebook and Instagram. The company claimed people who posted about how abortion pills could be mailed had violated its polices.

These policies prohibit “attempts by individuals, manufacturers and retailers to purchase, sell or trade non-medical drugs, pharmaceutical drugs and marijuana.”

“Content that attempts to buy, sell, trade, gift, request or donate pharmaceuticals is not allowed,” Meta spokesperson Andy Stone tweeted in response to these reports. “Content that discusses the affordability and accessibility of prescription medication is allowed. We’ve discovered some instances of incorrect enforcement and are correcting these.”

Although, some abortion advocates claimed that this was nothing new and that the social media giant have been restricting their posts for years.

Elsewhere, dating apps have given singletons seeking love on their platforms the opportunity to demonstrate their support of Roe V Wade with badges.

Data from online dating platform OKCupid suggests that singles supporting abortion rights are more likely to find a match.

GlobalData is the parent company of Verdict and its sister publications.