Following Supreme Court’s abortion decision, Democrats seek investigation into technology’s use of personal data

WASHINGTON (AP) — As Supreme Court ends constitutional protections for abortion, four Democratic lawmakers are asking federal regulators to investigate Apple and Google for allegedly misleading millions of cell phone users by collecting their personal information and to sell.

Friday’s decision by the court’s conservative majority to overturn Roe v. Wade is expected to lead to abortion bans in about half of the states. Privacy experts say this could leave women vulnerable because their personal information could be used to monitor pregnancies and share it with the police or sell it to vigilantes. Online searches, period apps, fitness trackers and advice helplines can become rich sources of data for such surveillance efforts.

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The request for an investigation into the two California-based tech giants came in a letter to Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan on Friday. It was signed by the Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Rep. Sara Jacobs from California. It was sent shortly before the Supreme Court announced its decision to overturn the 1973 precedent, noting that the court was likely to do so.

“Individuals seeking abortion and other reproductive health care will become particularly vulnerable to privacy violations, including through the collection and sharing of their location data,” lawmakers said in the letter. “Data brokers already sell, license and share the location information of people visiting abortion providers to anyone with a credit card.”

They said prosecutors in states where abortion is becoming illegal may soon be able to obtain search warrants on anyone who has visited an abortion provider.

“Private actors will also be incentivized by state premium laws to track down women who have had or want to have an abortion by accessing location information through shady data brokers,” the lawmakers wrote.

They asked Khan to investigate Apple and Google’s practices with mobile phone data in general. They accused the companies of “dishonest and deceptive practices by facilitating the collection and sale of hundreds of millions of personal data of mobile phone users”.

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The companies “deliberately” facilitated the harmful practices by embedding location IDs used for advertisements into their mobile phone operating systems, lawmakers said.

FTC spokesman Peter Kaplan confirmed that the agency had received the letter, but said there would be no comment.

Apple and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The letter from the lawmakers noted that Apple and Google are now allowing consumers to opt out of the tracking. However, it said that until recently, Apple had enabled the tracking ID by default and that consumers had to dig through confusing phone settings to disable it. Google still enables it by default, and until recently, it didn’t even offer consumers an opt-out, the letter said.

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