Eight months after Roe, reproductive health privacy remains challenging | Engadget

Data privacy awareness rose last June when the Supreme Court struck down Roe vs. Wade, limiting access to safe and legal abortion. Now, eight months later, privacy experts say don’t let your guard down. Legislative bodies have made little progress on health data security.

We deliver so much data every day that it’s easy to get disconnected. We blindly accept permissions or turn on location sharing, but that data can also be used by government bodies to prosecute civilians or by attackers looking to extort money from people. So when SCOTUS declared that access to abortion would no longer be a constitutional right, people started using reproductive health apps.

“The burden is really on consumers to figure out how a company, an app, a website is going to collect and then potentially use and share their data,” Andrew Crawford, senior adviser, privacy and data, at the Center for Democracy and the technology. saying.

There are no general industry standards or federal legislation to protect sensitive data, despite the fact that since last year. Even data that is not considered personally identifiable or explicitly health-related can put individuals at risk. Location data, for example, can show whether a patient traveled for an abortion, possibly putting her at risk of prosecution.

“Businesses see that as information they can use to make money,” Jen Caltrider, leader of Mozilla’s consumer privacy organization, Privacy Not Included, told Engadget. Research published by the Caltrider team in August. Eighteen of them got a privacy warning label for failing to comply with privacy standards.

So what is left for users of reproductive health apps to do? The obvious advice is to read the terms and conditions carefully before signing up to better understand what happens to your data. However, if you don’t have a legal title and a spare hour, there are some basic rules to follow. Turning off data sharing that isn’t necessary for the app to work, using encrypted chats to talk about reproductive care, signing up for a reliable VPN, and leaving your phone at home if you’re accessing reproductive health care can help protect their information, according to Crawford.

While industry standards are still lacking, increased public scrutiny has led to some improvements. Some reproductive health apps now store data locally instead of on a server, so it can’t be accessed by law enforcement or base operations in places like Europe that have . We spoke to three popular apps that received Privacy Not Included warning labels last August to see what’s changed since then.

Glow’s Eve reproductive health app introduced an option to store data locally instead of on its server, among other security measures. Glow told Engadget that it doesn’t sell data and employees must receive privacy and security training.

A similar app, Flo Health, has introduced an anonymous mode and hired a new privacy executive since the report. The company told Engadget that it hopes to expand its anonymous mode features in the future with additions like the ability to stop receiving IP addresses altogether.

Clue, another app that made it to the warning list, adheres to the European Union’s stricter privacy laws known as the General Data Protection Regulation, co-CEO Carrie Walter told Engadget. She added that the company will never cooperate with a government authority to use people’s health data against them, and advised users to keep up with updates to its privacy policy to learn more.

But there are no unique solutions. Since permissions change frequently, people who use health apps also check in to constantly check their settings.

“Apps are constantly changing, so keep researching, which is a burden on consumers,” Caltrider said. “Use anonymous modes, when available, store things locally, as much as you can. Do not share location if you can opt out of location sharing.”

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
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