The U.S. House Oversight Committee is studying a collection of rule-tracking apps and data brokers in light of emerging concerns about how private health data could be weaponized on the cusp of the pandemic. post-Roe era v. Wade.
The committee today sent letters to data brokers SafeGraph, Babel Street, Digital Envoy, Placer.ai and Gravy Analytics and app makers Flo Health, Glow, GP International, developer Clue BioWink and Digitalchemy Ventures.
In the letters, the representatives requested information about the companies’ data collection and retention policies “including documentation and communications regarding the actual or potential production of such data to external entities voluntarily or under legal obligation. , such as a subpoena”. The lawmakers also asked for information explaining each company’s data-sharing practices and the revenue and profits those companies have made from that data over the past five years.
“The collection of sensitive data could pose a serious threat to those seeking reproductive care as well as the providers of that care, not only by facilitating intrusive government surveillance, but also by putting individuals at risk of harassment, intimidation and even violence,” the committee wrote.
“Geographical data collected by cell phones can be used to locate people seeking care at clinics, and search and chat history referring to clinics or drugs creates digital breadcrumbs revealing interest in an abortion.”
The inquiry is being led by Chairperson, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee Chair, Raja Krishnamoorthi, and Rep. Sara Jacobs. Lawmakers have set July 22 as the deadline for companies to comply with the demands.
With the Roe repeal and abortion no longer a protected federal right in the United States, privacy advocates, lawmakers and consumers have raised concerns that location data and health monitoring could be turned against people seeking abortions in the United States.
Both types of data paint a highly personalized picture of an individual’s behavior. Health and period-focused apps can track missed periods and fertility cycles, while user location data bought and sold by shadow data companies can provide precise location information that could implicate anyone who visits an abortion provider.
The White House raised its own concerns about digital surveillance and companies that collect or sell “sensitive health-related data” on Friday in a new executive order focused on protecting access to abortion.
Last week, Google announced it would erase location data from “particularly personal” places, including abortion and fertility clinics. In May, congressional Democrats wrote a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai urging the company to expand new privacy measures in light of the impending reversal of Roe v. Wade.
Consumers are also taking matters into their own hands, swapping their current period trackers for alternative apps they perceive to be safer, though in some cases they may jump out of the frying pan and into the fire.