When the end of constitutionally protected abortion arrives, the internet will become an even more crucial resource for abortion seekers, and some Democrats want to make navigating it as safe as possible.
A group of senators led by Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced the Health and Location Data Protection Act on Wednesday. The bill—if it manages to make it out of the Senate—would ban data brokers from selling and transferring people’s health and location data, which they argue is “some of the most sensitive data available about everyday Americans.” The bill seeks to establish “robust enforcement” by allocating $1 billion to the Federal Trade Commission over the next decade to carry out enforcement. (The full text can be found here.)
The senators’ announcement had impeccable timing. Also on Wednesday, Reveal and The Markup reported that Meta (née Facebook) is both “collecting ultra-sensitive personal data about abortion seekers” and allowing crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) “to use that data as a tool to target and influence people online, in violation of its own policies and promises.”
Meta prohibits its adtech customers from sending “sensitive information about people” to Facebook.
The investigation found at least 294 anti-abortion clinics shared website visitor information with Facebook. At least 39 anti-abortion sites sent incredibly specific data back to Facebook, like the person’s name or phone number. The investigation found at least 120 CPCs shared data about abortion seekers in states with trigger bans. It didn’t matter if the person was logged into a Facebook account while searching the site.
Warren’s bill is an extension of a letter that Senate Democrats sent last week begging the Biden administration to take executive action protecting abortion rights, since the Senate can’t do much without filibuster reform. Protecting healthcare data was one of their recommendations.
In an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” President Joe Biden basically laughed at the idea and said, “Maybe later!”
Warren’s consumer-first approach to abortion protection isn’t entirely novel. Two weeks ago, California Attorney General Rob Bonta warned Californians about the limited and likely misleading healthcare options advertised by crisis pregnancy centers in the state. There are more CPCs than abortion clinics, so consumers can be risk of entering a CPC thinking that it will provide all healthcare options. Consumer-forward thinking was also behind the success of Remington Arms’ historic settlement with the parents of Sandy Hook victims.