Jun 30, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Biden to warn FTC about abortion related data sharing

Illustration of red and blue speech bubbles cut in half, colliding and cracking
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

President Biden will ask the Federal Trade Commission to use tools at its disposal to protect consumers' data privacy in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned, an official familiar with the plans told Axios.

Why it matters: In states where abortion is banned, there are growing fears those who are pregnant or miscarry may have their information harvested and used against them.

  • Tech companies collect and sell vast amounts of personal information including location data. That could include when and where women are visiting clinics.
  • Search engines and mobile phone apps capture data that might show who is seeking information on abortions.

What we're watching: In a letter to be sent as early as this week, Biden will say the FTC should not tolerate unfair or deceptive practices related to reporting, surveillance, sharing or sale of personal information — including sensitive health-related information — in any state, the official told Axios.

  • It's part of a broader request to the FTC asking the agency to use tools at its disposal to ensure women’s privacy is protected when they seek information or disclose personal data related to reproductive health care.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Margaret Harding McGill: The White House already encouraged the FTC to consider crafting rules on surveillance and the accumulation of troves of data as part of a wide-ranging executive order on competition last year.

  • This comes as privacy advocates fear online activity — such as period-tracking apps or searching for abortion-related information — could be used in criminal investigations.
  • The FTC previously settled an investigation into a period-tracking app it said misled consumers about how it treated their data.

Driving the news: The Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights (OCR) today issued new guidance to help protect patients seeking reproductive health care, as well as their providers.

  • It makes clear that providers are not required to disclose private medical information to third parties per federal regulation, addresses the extent to which private medical information is protected on personal cell phones and tablets, and provides tips for protecting individuals’ privacy when using period trackers and other health information apps.
  • Four Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to ask the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Apple and Google over their personal data collection practices and whether they could be used to target women seeking abortions.
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