With Abortion Soon To Be Illegal, War On Privacy Just Got Really Serious
If you don’t want to get Doxxed, get Tor and Brave and take a Signal from me, who knows, you can even win BATS and while you’re at it DeleteMe and for all you Femtechers, don’t forget Flo, BabyCenter, My Calendar or Ovia, if you don’t have a Clue, watch your Pink tax and keep your Dashlane, KeePass, or LastPass, it may save your life, and by all means, if SafeGraph calls, hang up immediately and never, I mean never download Otonomo.
All this mumbo jumbo is tied to personal data, who can see it and sell it and use it to expose, embarrass or have someone arrested. I am paranoid but that doesn’t mean everyone isn’t out to get my data. And it is all critically important now with the right wing, the dominant wing of the Republican Party, really feeling its oats, what with the Supreme Court expected to overturn Roe. v. Wade and return abortion legislation to the states which will no doubt act in a balanced, fair and unbiased way in writing new laws. Not.
The Texas law that rewards a bounty for anyone reporting a doctor or clinic that has performed an abortion has gotten a lot of publicity. The law incentivizes anti-abortion activists to try to collect private information about health situations online. But that is just the tip of a barbaric iceberg growing in many red, Republican states.
As example, there is the plan in Louisiana to classify abortion as homicide, going further than anti-abortion measures in other states by making it possible for prosecutors to bring criminal cases against women who end a pregnancy. Louisiana is one of around a dozen states with a so-called trigger law, which would quickly make abortion unlawful if the Supreme Court overturns the constitutional right to an abortion.
Ohio lawmakers are braced to enact the Heartbeat Bill, banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. Another recently adopted bill makes it a felony for providers to perform or induce an abortion when a fetal heartbeat has been detected.
Staying with Ohio, a bill signed into law last December makes it a felony for any health care provider to perform a dilation and evacuation (D and E), dubbed by anti-abortionists with the gruesome label of “dismemberment abortion,” the most commonly used method of second-trimester abortion. D and E bans have been enacted in nine states in the past four years: Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia. With the exception of Mississippi and West Virginia, courts have blocked or temporarily enjoined the laws in each.
Louisiana and Mississippi this year enacted laws banning all abortion after 15 weeks’ gestation.
Personhood laws also are in the works to grant constitutional rights to fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos and fetuses. In Arizona, a quasi-personhood law requires courts in a divorce proceeding to award in vitro embryos to the spouse that intends to allow the embryos to develop to birth. Sixteen states this year considered measures to recognize or classify fertilized eggs and fetuses as persons.
Missouri is considering a law to make it illegal to “aid or abet” abortions in other states.
The Republican right wing will stop at nothing in their vile campaign to impose their will and that means digging deep into the personal files of innocent Americans.
One weapon for anti-choice radicals is to target out-of-state clinics providing abortions. Information can be obtained from data location brokers showing individual visits to clinics that provide abortions, where groups of people visiting the locations came from, how long they stayed there, and where they then went afterwards,
The data location brokers obtain and aggregate location data from apps installed on people’s mobile phones. One broker is SafeGraph, whose investors reportedly include billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel and a former head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency. Thiel is a co-founder of PayPal and in the 2022 election campaigns, Thiel was one of the largest donors to Republican candidates with more than $20.4 million in contributions. He supported 16 senatorial and congressional candidates, two of whom were proponents of the trumpian lie that there was significant voter fraud in the 2020 election.
To show how such data can be misused, Vice News reported that it spent just $160 to buy a week’s worth of location data for more than 600 Planned Parenthood locations across the United States from SafeGraph. A few days later, SafeGraph said it has stopped selling aggregated information on visits to abortion clinics to protect people from anti-abortion groups.
BuzzFeed News reported that in 2017, an online search for the abortion inducing misoprostol was used to charge a woman with second-degree murder. In 2015, a series of text messages with a friend about getting an abortion helped convict another of feticide and child neglect. And that same year, activists used surveillance technology to target anti-abortion ads at women visiting abortion clinics.
The Pillar, a website whose goal is to “do serious, responsible, sober journalism about the Church, from the Church, and for the Church” published a story in July 2021 which reported on cell phone location data which showed Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, the top administrator of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, had frequented gay bars and the Grindr app. As a result, Burrill resigned from the conference.
Another malicious practice is “doxxing,” the term applied when hackers and online vigilantes search and publish private information about public and private figures.
John Flynn, a Boston-based advertising executive and anti-abortion advocate, sells mobile geo fencing as marketing tools to pregnancy help centers to help women find alternatives to abortion. Flynn sells data that allows a client to advertise products on smartphones of customers who are most likely to make a connection. But the data also can be used to track locations, for instance where and when women visit a family planning clinic. Among Flynn’s clients is RealOptions, a network of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) in Northern California, as well as the evangelical adoption agency Bethany Christian Services.
And this is just the beginning. Smartphones record where you’ve been, and that ever-popular, ubiquitous Alexa works so well that every time Amazon’s artificial intelligence activates, it keeps a recording, in perpetuity.
And this brings me back to all of that geekey jargon. If you are one of those who thinks you have nothing to fear because you have nothing to hide, think again. Let’s say you post on Facebook or tweet support for abortion or you text a friend the address of a doctor who will perform an abortion or digitally offer to assist a person in getting to an abortion clinic. Depending on the state, you could be charged with a crime. It has happened before and if abortion is outlawed, stealing personal information will grow exponentially. That makes it more important than ever for people to use digital hygiene tools and techniques to protect themselves from prosecution.
There are relatively simple steps you can take to protect your online privacy, especially if you are planning an abortion. They include:
Create an anonymous email account and Google Voice number to register for services.
Use so-called, burner phones, prepaid mobile phones that are replaced frequently and provide a degree of privacy in mobile phone use.
Turn on two-factor authentication for an extra layer of security. Two-factor authentication (2FA) is an extra step added to the log-in process, such as a code sent to your phone or a fingerprint scan, that helps verify your identity and prevent cybercriminals from accessing your private information. 2FA offers an extra level of security that cyberthieves can’t easily access, because the criminal needs more than just your username and password credentials.
Browse privately when you can by using free browsers like “Brave” and “Tor.” Brave automatically blocks online advertisements and website trackers in its default settings. It also provides users the choice to turn on optional ads that pay users for their attention in the form of Basic Attention Tokens (BAT) cryptocurrency. As of December 2021, Brave has more than 50 million monthly active users, 15.5 million daily active users and a network of more than 1.3 million content creators.
Tor, short for The Onion Router, is free software that directs Internet traffic through a worldwide, volunteer overlay network, to conceal a user’s location and usage from anyone performing network surveillance or traffic analysis.
The Digital Defense Fund also recommends disabling the unique mobile advertising ID on your smartphone that gives your device permission to track you.
Chat on encrypted messaging apps like Signal, which can be downloaded for free from app stores, allowing users to send encrypted chats that cannot be coherently intercepted. Users can also enable disappearing messages, which delete chats after a specific amount of time.
Consider a professional deletion service like DeleteMe which routinely scours the Internet for clients’ personal information, like email addresses, social media handles, and marital status and files requests asking the data brokers selling it to remove it.
Use privacy controls and check for options to opt out of permission to sell data or share it with external partners. Smartphone settings also can be adjusted to limit permissions to your location data or your contacts.
Consider a password manager with programs like 1Password, Dashlane, KeePass, or LastPass, which generate extremely strong passwords and encrypt them for safety. When you go to the app you need, it will log you in.
If an app requires an email address, set up an alternate email account to cut down on the marketing spam clogging up your primary email inbox.
Another area of concern is the burgeoning $50 billion “Femtech” industry which offers technology-based products and services focused on women’s health. The apps are widely used to help people who are trying to have a baby, want to prevent pregnancy or need to monitor menstrual-cycle-related health problems such as hormone-triggered migraines. Apps can track how often you have sex, if you are trying to have a baby, and whether you engage in unprotected sex, have experienced a miscarriage, or are approaching menopause. Popular apps are BabyCenter, Clue, Flo, My Calendar, and Ovia.
However, unlike medical records held by doctors and hospitals, the information collected by health-focused apps isn’t covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a federal law that limits where healthcare providers can share your health information. None of the app companies guarantee to protect your information because each company shares some data with outside partners to allow for targeted advertising.
Some apps explain how and where the personal data is shared or sold but the jargon can be too dense for a normal person to slog through. A pending federal law would require that mobile health technologies such as health apps and fitness trackers allow users to review, change, and delete health data collected by companies.
I hope I didn’t scare you.