Monday, November 28, 2022

Big Tech remains silent on questions about data privacy in a post-Roe world

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Google says in its terms of service that the company reserves the right to remove any content that violates the law or could harm other users, third parties, or Google itself. Those terms of service cover a wide range of products, including email, stored media, travel itineraries on Google Maps, and Google documents. 

This policy has major privacy and safety implications for those educating others online about abortion, advocating for abortion access, or seeking an abortion in states that have made the procedure illegal. It also has consequences for activists and organizers working on reproductive rights: Google Docs is a popular tool for quick, collaborative organizing around major social issues.

Google-owned YouTube could also limit content about abortion. While YouTube’s rules on violent content do have an exception for educational videos, it’s not clear whether the platform’s policy against promoting “violent acts” could become a tool for anti-abortion activists under state laws that now criminalize the procedure. For instance, they could simply identify content across Google’s platforms that advocates for abortion access or provides resources for those seeking an abortion, and start reporting it to Google’s moderators.  

Recently, Google was urged by multiple members of Congress to stop collecting user location data, including data on Android phones, that could identify people who visited abortion clinics. The legislators also asked the company to clarify how it would respond to geofence warrants—requests from law enforcement for data on everyone who visits a certain location. 

The company has yet to respond to the lawmakers’ letter and did not respond to any of MIT Technology Review’s requests for comment on how it will handle government requests for such data and user reports of content about abortion. 

Meta, which has policies banning some forms of violent or illegal content, would not describe how it plans to moderate content on abortion access after the Dobbs ruling. But Motherboard reported that Facebook has removed posts by individuals offering to mail abortion pills to others. The US Food and Drug Administration permits these medications, which are currently the most common method of abortion, to be prescribed via telemedicine and taken at home in early pregnancy. Nevertheless, 19 states have already banned using telemedicine for abortion. Posts merely noting that abortion pills can be mailed have also been removed from Facebook, according to Motherboard.

NBC has reported that Instagram, also owned by Meta, is withholding search results for “abortion pills” and “mifepristone,” the name of a drug often used in medication abortions. A message explains that recent posts under both hashtags are hidden because some may violate the app’s community guidelines. Abortion pills prescribed by overseas providers not bound by US laws remain available for mail order in every state. 

In a tweet, Andy Stone, Meta’s communications director, pointed to the parent company’s ban on content facilitating pharmaceutical transactions.

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