Senators ask Apple and Google to prohibit data collection that targets abortion seekers

The group said the tech giants "must" act to protect individuals exercising their right to choose.

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WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 17: A protester carries a sign as they attend the "Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice" rally at Union Square near the U.S. Capitol on May 17, 2022 in Washington, DC. The rally, hosted by the National Council of Jewish Women, is taking place more than two weeks since the leaked draft of the Supreme Court's potential decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.  (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

A group of US senators led by Ed Markey of Massachusetts is calling on Apple and Google to implement new app store policies that prohibit developers from collecting data that would threaten women seeking abortions. In separate letters sent to the CEOs of both companies, the group said the two tech giants “must” act to protect individuals exercising their right to choose from groups that would target them for their decision.

“Following the leak of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, we are concerned that anti-abortion prosecutors and other actors will attempt to access and leverage personal information – including data regarding location, online activity, health, and biometrics – in ways that threaten the wellbeing of those exercising their right to choose,” the letter addressed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai states.

Pointing to the prevalence of online platforms selling user information to data brokers, the group warns that abortion prosecutors and “even vigilantes” could exploit those practices to intimidate women who seek abortions or harass them retroactively.

Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont also signed the letters. The letters follow a separate call from Congressional Democrats that came earlier in the week urging Google to stop collecting location data over many of the same concerns. The idea that various groups, including law enforcement agencies, could weaponize app data isn’t an imagined threat. A recent report from Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has built up a mass surveillance system that includes information about almost all US residents, and it did so partly by purchasing data from private companies. The senators asked Pichai and Tim Cook to respond to the letters by June 17th. 

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