Democrats introduced a bill Thursday to protect sensitive health and location data from being sold to online advertisers.
The Upholding Protections for Health and Online Location Data (UPHOLD) Privacy Act aims to resolve lingering concerns over the online safety of abortion-seeking patients. Introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), the bill would ban the use of personally identifiable health data from being used for targeted advertising and bar the sale of precision location data to data brokerages.
“For too long companies have profited off of Americans’ online data while consumers have been left in the dark, which is especially concerning in light of reports that some social media companies collect data related to reproductive health care,” Klobuchar said in a statement Friday.
Following the reversal of Roe v. Wade last June, privacy groups feared that companies collecting and selling sensitive health and precise geolocation data could put reproductive healthcare patients at risk, especially in states that restrict abortion access. In May, a Vice report seemingly confirmed these fears, identifying a data firm that sold location data related to visits to Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics.
“Since the reversal of Roe, data brokers and tech firms have continued to profit from the private health and location data of millions of Americans, including those seeking reproductive health care services.”
“Since the reversal of Roe, data brokers and tech firms have continued to profit from the private health and location data of millions of Americans, including those seeking reproductive health care services,” Warren said in a statement Friday.
Larger tech companies like Meta and Google have also come under fire for failing to protect reproductive data over the last year. In August, a Nebraska woman was charged with helping her daughter illegally abort a pregnancy after law enforcement obtained their private Facebook messages. Meta said that the warrant, which was received prior to the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, did not mention abortion.
Responding to the Dobbs decision, Google said that it would automatically delete all abortion clinic visits from a user’s location history in a July blog post. By removing the data from its servers, Google makes it harder for law enforcement to obtain the information as evidence.
President Joe Biden signed an executive order last summer directing federal agencies to protect the privacy of patients seeking abortions. In August, the Federal Trade Commission sued Kochava, an app analytics firm, for selling location data and other sensitive information that could unmask people seeking or performing abortions.
But without meaningful federal privacy protections, sensitive health data may remain unsafe. Lawmakers have tried and failed to pass federal online privacy protections for years. Earlier this week, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing on online privacy. The bipartisan American Data Privacy and Protection Act, or ADPPA, would empower Americans to access, correct, and request the deletion of any personal data companies have collected on them. The FTC would also be required to define what forms of data are necessary for companies to collect.