🔒 What Happens To Data If Roe Falls?
Following a leaked draft of the US Supreme Court's implied ruling to overturn Roe V Wade, new attention has been placed on abortion rights and accompanying privacy. Fertility tracking apps (tools that allow people to track their menstrual cycle) have now become a point of concern for privacy and reproductive rights activists as user data may be used to expose women who have recently had an abortion.
“We’ve seen cases where women’s Google searches, unencrypted communications, emails, and other types of messages — like Facebook Messenger — were used against them, and social media posts,” Cynthia Conti-Cook, a technology fellow with the Ford Foundation's gender, racial, and ethnic justice team, told The Verge.
In 2021, the FTC found cycle tracking app Flo shared user data with Facebook and other third parties after promising to keep user data private, notes Tech Crunch.
“In our view, the FTC should have charged Flo with violating the Health Breach Notification Rule,” Rohit Chopra, a commissioner of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said. “The Health Breach Notification Rule was first issued more than a decade ago, but the explosion in connected health apps make its requirements more important than ever.”
Currently, personal data tied to menstrual tracking apps are not covered under HIPAA.
The Health Breach Notification Rule
The rule was passed in 2009 and requires companies to notify customers of personal information breaches, and in cases involving 500 or more people, to notify the media. In recent years, as both health apps and security breaches have skyrocketed, the rule “helps to ensure that entities not covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act [HIPAA] nevertheless face accountability when consumers’ sensitive health information is compromised.”
In the 50-plus years since Roe defined the law, technology has proliferated in such a way as to complicate any attempt to overthrow it. Yet, with that impending reality, Silicon Valley needs to step up and protect the users of its apps.