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Biden to call on FTC to protect abortion seekers’ data privacy

He also supports a filibuster carveout to codify Roe v. Wade

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

As early as this week, President Joe Biden plans to ask the Federal Trade Commission to protect consumer data privacy following the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, according to a new report from Axios.

Biden’s request is expected to come by way of a letter to the FTC, asking the agency to protect the privacy of women and birthing parents online. Specifically, Axios reported that 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.”

Soon after the Supreme Court released its ruling last week, privacy advocates and lawmakers warned that data obtained from period-tracking apps and other online services could put abortion-seeking Americans at risk. Online platforms collect expansive amounts of personal information from users, often including sensitive health information and location data.

Earlier this month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced a bill — the Health and Location Protection Act — that would impose a sweeping ban on the sale of these types of information, prepping for the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“Data brokers profit from the location data of millions of people, posing serious risks to Americans everywhere by selling their most private information,” Warren said in a statement earlier this month. “With this extremist Supreme Court poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and states seeking to criminalize essential health care, it is more crucial than ever for Congress to protect consumers’ sensitive data.”

It’s unclear how the FTC may approach Biden’s request, but the agency has gone after period-tracking apps for possible privacy violations in the past. In January 2021, the popular period and fertility tracking app Flo settled with the FTC over allegations that it misled users on how it shared their private health data with third-party firms, like Facebook and Google. As part of that settlement, Flo was required to alert users on how their data was previously shared and ask for permission for it to be shared in the future.

On Wednesday, the US Department of Health and Human Services issued new guidance on patient privacy declaring that reproductive health providers “are not required to disclose private medical information to third parties.”

Speaking at a NATO summit in Spain on Thursday, Biden threw his support behind the Senate carving out an exception to the filibuster to codify Roe v. Wade.

“We have to codify Roe v. Wade in the law,” Biden said. “And if the filibuster gets in the way, it’s like voting rights, it should be we provide an exception for this, requiring an exception to the filibuster for this action to deal with the Supreme Court decision.”