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Senators Urge Apple, Google to Stop App Data Collection That Could ID Those Seeking Abortions

They say personal information could potentially be sold to data miners who could pass it on to prosecutors or "even vigilantes."

The US Capitol building
There's nothing stopping data farmers from selling data collected by apps.
Getty

A group of senators is urging the CEOs of both Apple and Google to prohibit the apps in their app stores from collecting data that could be used to identify women seeking abortions.

Friday's letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Apple CEO Tim Cook, signed by five Democratic and independent senators, comes in the wake of a leaked draft of an upcoming majority opinion that indicates that the Supreme Court plans to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision establishing the constitutional right to an abortion.

It also follows Tuesday's publication of a separate letter signed by 42 Democratic and independent senators and members of Congress, calling on Google to stop collecting and retaining location data from its users, as it could be used to identify people who are seeking to obtain abortions.

In Friday's letter, the five senators express concern that anti-abortion prosecutors and others will try to access and leverage personal information -- including data related to location, online activity, health and biometrics -- "in ways that threaten the wellbeing of those exercising their right to choose."

Many apps in both Apple's and Google's respective stores routinely collect this kind of data, then sell it to brokers, the senators write. And there's nothing stopping those brokers from sharing or selling that data to prosecutors or "even vigilantes," the letter says.

Specifically, the senators note that data about an app user's fertility, a browsing history showing an interest in contraception or location information showing that a user visited a gynecologist could all be used by those "who are intent on targeting, intimidating and harming individuals who seek abortions or individuals who simply take steps to promote their reproductive health."

The letters ask the companies to commit to reviewing and updating their policies on data use and distribution to protect the safety of women seeking abortions. 

Representatives of Apple and Google didn't immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

The signers of Friday's letter were Democratic Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren, both of Massachusetts: Cory Booker of New Jersey; and Ron Wyden of Oregon; and Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont.