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Democratic lawmakers suddenly concerned with tracking software, say it could be used to 'hunt' women seeking abortions

Democratic lawmakers did not address Apple and Google's history of tracking COVID-19 positive users' movement without their permission.

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Joshua Young Youngsville North Carolina
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Senate Democrats Elizabeth Warren, Ron Wyden, and Cory Booker and Congresswoman Sara Jacobs are concerned that mobile tracking software created by Apple and Google could be used to "hunt down women" seeking abortions.

Individuals seeking abortions and other reproductive healthcare will become particularly vulnerable to privacy harms, including through the collection and sharing of their location data, should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, the group said in a June 24 letter to the Federal Trade Commission.

The same day, the Supreme Court overturned Roe V Wade and sent abortion regulation back to state legislatures.

According to Fox Business, the Democratic lawmakers are "urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Apple and Google for failing to warn consumers about the potential harms associated with advertising-specific tracking IDs in their mobile operating systems."

Google and Apple employ tracking technology on their devices which keeps records of users' geographic movement. The data is harvested and aggregated so individual users are are separated from it and remain anonymous. The data is then sold to third parties, often called "data brokers."

But legislators said the aggregated data can be easily linked to individual users.

"This is because some data brokers sell databases that explicitly link these advertising identifiers to consumers’ names, email addresses, and telephone numbers," they wrote. "But even without buying this additional data, it is often possible to easily identify a particular consumer in a dataset of 'anonymous' location records by looking to see where they sleep at night."

Google and Apple tells users they can opt out of tracking data. However, the efficacy of "opting out" is unclear when there are a multiplicity of apps that use some version of the tracking IDs.

Data collection also includes browser activity and social media usage. In April 2021, Google and Apple used movement tracking technology to better contact trace for the novel coronavirus, sometimes tracking users' movements without their permission if they were tagged as infected.

The COVID-19 data collection was not addressed by Democratic lawmakers.

"Data brokers are already selling, licensing, and sharing the location information of people that visit abortion providers to anyone with a credit card. Prosecutors in states where abortion becomes illegal will soon be able to obtain warrants for location information about anyone who has visited an abortion provider."

The four expressed concern of pregnant women getting rabidly "hunt down" by "bounty hunters" who could buy the information to track them down.

"The FTC should investigate Apple and Google’s role in transforming online advertising into an intense system of surveillance that incentivizes and facilitates the unrestrained collection and constant sale of Americans’ personal data," they wrote. "It is beyond time to bring an end to the privacy harms forced on consumers by these companies."

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