Jul 13, 2022 - Health

FTC commits to enforcing privacy laws after Roe falls

Illustration of a Windows-style folder icon with a padlock on it.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday reaffirmed it would protect consumers who share sensitive health information or location data with mobile apps or websites, threatening to use federal privacy laws against companies that exploit personal data.

Why it matters: Following the demise of Roe v. Wade, some consumers began deleting apps and tightening their digital footprints, fearing data could be used to investigate potential violations of state abortion bans.

  • The Supreme Court has by and large not included data privacy in its interpretation of the right to privacy, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill and Ashley Gold write, and that could pave the way for location or search history to be used in criminal investigations.
  • The FTC can enforce federal privacy laws and penalize companies that mislead consumers.
  • "We will vigorously enforce the law if we uncover illegal conduct that exploits Americans’ location, health, or other sensitive data," Kristin Cohen, an associate director from the FTC Division of Privacy & Identity Protection, said in a statement.

But, but, but: Data brokers are already collecting hundreds if not thousands of data points from users' online activity.

  • For example, Facebook's advertising tool collected reproductive health data from crisis pregnancy center websites, including "whether a person was considering abortion or looking to get a pregnancy test or emergency contraceptives," a Reveal investigation found.

What's next: Some in Congress have introduced federal legislation to bolster online security and prohibit data brokers from selling health data, Margaret and Ashley write.

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