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Tech firms under pressure to safeguard user data as abortion prosecutions loom

26 Jun 2022 By theguardian

Tech firms under pressure to safeguard user data as abortion prosecutions loom

After the US supreme court overturned Roe v Wade on Friday, calls increased for tech companies to take a stand about the use of online data to incriminate individuals seeking or providing abortion services.

Abortion and civil rights advocates have warned that there are few federal regulations on what information is collected and retained by tech firms, making it easy for law enforcement officials to access incriminating data on location, internet searches and communication history.

Despite these growing calls, no major tech companies as of Friday afternoon had made public statements on how they will handle such data and respond to related law enforcement requests moving forward.

Facebook and WhatsApp parent company Meta did not respond to request for comment. Ride share firms Uber and Lyft did not respond to request for comment. Google and Apple did not respond to request for comment.

Smaller companies are also being targeted with questions over their data practices, as frantic calls to delete period tracking apps went viral following the supreme court decision. Some of those companies, unlike the tech giants, have taken public stands.

Digital rights advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has advised companies in the tech world to pre-emptively prepare for a future in which they are served with subpoenas and warrants seeking user data to prosecute abortion seekers and providers.

It recommends companies allow pseudonymous or anonymous access, stop behavioral tracking, and retain as little data as possible. It also advocated for end-to-end encryption by default and refrain from collecting any location information.

Experts are also encouraging individuals seeking abortions to use heightened data security practices, including encrypted communications and disabling location tracking. The Roe decision has highlighted a longstanding privacy crisis affecting users of the most commonly used tech services, said Ahmed.

Johana Bhuiyan contributed reporting.

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