Personal data | Dems Want an Investigation into Tech's Use of Personal Data After Roe

To examine Apple and Google for allegedly misleading mobile phone users by authorizing the collection and sale of their data, four Democratic legislators have submitted a request to federal regulators.



Washington, D.C. Four Democratic lawmakers are requesting that federal regulators look into Apple and Google for allegedly misleading millions of mobile phone users by enabling the collection and sale of their data to third parties in light of the Supreme Court's decision to end constitutional protections for abortion.


Abortion restrictions are anticipated to be enacted in nearly half of the states as a result of the court's conservative majority's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on Friday. According to privacy experts, this might put women at risk because their personal information might be used to monitor pregnancies, shared with law enforcement, or sold to vigilantes. For such surveillance initiatives, online searches, period apps, fitness trackers, and guidance hotlines might become valuable data sources.

A letter to Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan on Friday asked for a probe into the two internet behemoths with headquarters in California. Democratic senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Rep. Sara Jacobs of California all signed it. It was delivered just before the Supreme Court issued its ruling reversing the 1973 precedent, and it included a prediction that the court would probably act in that way.

The lawmakers stated in the letter that individuals seeking abortions and other reproductive healthcare will be especially vulnerable to privacy abuses, including through the collecting and sharing of their location data. The location information of persons who visit abortion providers is already being sold, licensed, and shared by data brokers with anyone with a credit card.


They claimed that shortly, prosecutors in jurisdictions where abortion is outlawed could be able to get warrants for location data on everyone who has visited an abortion facility.


State bounty legislation will also encourage private actors to track out women who have had or are considering getting an abortion by gaining access to their locations through dubious data brokers, the lawmakers argued.


They requested Khan conduct a probe into how Apple and Google usually handle the data of mobile phone users. They claimed that the businesses had engaged in "unfair and deceptive activities by facilitating the acquisition and selling of personal data from hundreds of millions of mobile phone users."


By incorporating location-based advertising location identifiers into the operating systems of their mobile phones, the corporations "knowingly enabled" the damaging practices, the MPs claimed.


Peter Kaplan, the FTC's spokesperson, confirmed that the organization had received the letter but declined to comment further.


Requests for a response from Apple and Google were not immediately fulfilled.


In their letter, the lawmakers mentioned how consumers can now choose not to have their data tracked by Apple and Google. However, it said that up until recently, Apple left the tracking identifier activated by default and needed users to navigate complicated phone settings to disable it. According to the letter, Google continues to activate it by default and, until recently, did not even provide users the option to opt out.


Last month, Wyden, Warren, and Booker urged the CEOs of Google and Apple to forbid apps from using data-mining techniques that could facilitate the targeting of people looking for abortion services. They were joined by Senators Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in making the request.


This story has been updated to reflect that lawmakers are condemning the firms for allowing third parties to sell user data instead of selling it directly.


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