Facebook Reportedly Collects Data About Abortion Seekers

Queenie Wong Former Senior Writer
Queenie Wong was a senior writer for CNET News, focusing on social media companies including Facebook's parent company Meta, Twitter and TikTok. Before joining CNET, she worked for The Mercury News in San Jose and the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. A native of Southern California, she took her first journalism class in middle school.
Expertise I've been writing about social media since 2015 but have previously covered politics, crime and education. I also have a degree in studio art. Credentials
  • 2022 Eddie award for consumer analysis
Queenie Wong
2 min read
Facebook logo on a phone in front of a pink background.

Facebook has nearly 2 billion users who visit the social network daily. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

What's happening

An collaborative investigation between two journalism nonprofits finds that Facebook is collecting personal data about abortion seekers.

Why it matters

Lawmakers and privacy experts are raising concerns about how technology can be abused, after a leaked draft opinion showed the Supreme Court planned to overturn federal abortion rights.

Facebook is reportedly collecting data about people who visit the websites of so-called crisis pregnancy centers, raising concerns from privacy experts that information about abortion seekers could be abused.

A collaborative investigation between journalism nonprofits The Markup and Reveal, which is part of The Center for Investigative Reporting, analyzed nearly 2,500 crisis pregnancy center websites and found that at least 294 of these sites shared visitor information with Facebook. Some of the sensitive personal data included information about whether a person is considering abortion or trying to obtain emergency contraceptives or a pregnancy test.

Concerns about how such data could be used to identify abortion seekers have increased after Politico published a story in early May about a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that suggests the court will strike down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. In late May, US lawmakers urged Google to stop collecting and retaining user location data because it could be tapped to identify people seeking abortions. The Supreme Court decision has not been released yet, but it would strike down national constitutional protection of abortion rights. Individual states would then decide whether to restrict or ban abortion.

Reveal and The Markup reported that it isn't clear how Facebook uses data about abortion seekers.

But privacy experts say that in states where abortion is outlawed, people who condemn the procedure could use such data as evidence against abortion seekers. They say the crisis pregnancy centers, which exist to persuade people against having abortions, could also use the data to target advertising or misinformation at people to deter them from opting for the procedure.

Dale Hogan, a spokesperson for Facebook parent company Meta, told the news outlets that the company's system is "designed to filter out potentially sensitive data" and that it's against Facebook's rules for apps and websites to send "sensitive information about people" through the company's business tools. Hogan sent the same statement to CNET.

Reveal and The Markup said it's unknown whether Facebook's filters caught the sensitive data. Privacy experts suggested that ways of preventing misuse of the data include strengthening the social media platform's filters or getting rid of a tool called the Meta Pixel that allows websites to track visitor activity.