Following a Supreme Court ruling on the constitutional protection of abortion, four Democratic lawmakers have asked federal regulators to investigate Apple and Google over alleged fraud by millions of mobile phone users by collecting and selling their personal information.
Friday’s ruling by the Conservative majority in Roe v. Wade is expected to ban abortion in nearly half of the states. Privacy experts say women may be vulnerable because their personal information could be used to investigate pregnancies and shared with police or sold to security guards. Online searches, period applications, fitness trackers and advice lines can be a rich source of data for such espionage efforts. The request for an investigation into two California-based technology giants came in a letter to Lina Khan, chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, on Friday. It was signed by Democratic Sens Ron Wyden of Oregon, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey and Rep. Sara Jacobs from California. It was sent shortly before the Supreme Court announced its decision to reverse the 1973 standard and found that the court was likely to do so. “Individuals seeking abortion and other reproductive health care may be particularly vulnerable to invasions of privacy, including the collection and sharing of location data,” lawmakers said in a letter. “Data creators sell, license and share location information with people looking for an abortion and giving everyone a credit card.”
They said prosecutors in states where abortions became illegal would soon receive arrest warrants for the location of anyone who visited abortion providers.
“Private actors will also be encouraged by state reward laws to track down women who have had abortions or sought access to location information through malicious data providers,” lawmakers wrote.
They asked Khan to investigate Apple’s and Google’s practices with data on mobile phone users in general. Companies have accused of engaging in “dishonest and fraudulent practices by collecting and selling hundreds of millions of personal data from mobile phone users.”
Businesses are “known to accelerate malicious practices” by creating location identifiers that are used to advertise on mobile phone operating systems, lawmakers said. FTC spokesman Peter Kaplan acknowledged that the office had received the letter, but said there were no comments.
Apple and Google did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
The letter to lawmakers said Apple and Google now allow consumers to opt out of surveillance. However, it is said that Apple has so far enabled tracker recognition by default and has asked consumers to dive into and confuse the phone’s confusing settings. Google still allows this by default, and until recently consumers did not even make an exception, the letter said.