New York Attorney General Letitia James today offered guidance to protect the privacy of individuals seeking abortion care and prevent unwanted digital tracking and data sharing. Recent reports indicate that online platforms and consumer apps, like those widely used to track fertility and menstrual cycles, have been collecting and sharing consumers’ personal information. These websites and apps can track detailed reproductive history, physical location, and other personal information, and that data can be unknowingly shared with third parties. This information may then be used against individuals seeking abortion care or those who help them without their awareness. With abortion access in greater jeopardy than ever before, it is important that New Yorkers and other consumers are mindful of how their information is being used and shared.
“People use fertility tracking apps and location services every day, but if they’re not careful their personal information can end up in the wrong hands,” said Attorney General James. “With abortion rights in jeopardy, it’s more important than ever that everyone take their digital privacy seriously. I urge everyone, especially those visiting abortion clinics or seeking abortion care, to follow the tips offered by my office and be more careful of the apps and websites they use. Safe, accessible abortion care is the future that we are fighting for and I am committed to protecting every woman’s reproductive freedom.”
“It is critical that the privacy of those seeking abortion services is protected, given the threats of legal action against both patients and providers from other states,” said State Senator Liz Krueger. “I am working with Attorney General James and my colleagues on legislation to enhance privacy protections, and commend the attorney general for taking this proactive step and providing patients with valuable information about how to better secure their personal information.”
Attorney General James recommends individuals seeking abortion care take the following steps to protect their digital privacy:
- Turn off Location Services and Ad Personalization on Your Device: Before going to a sensitive location, like an abortion clinic, you should adjust your phone settings to turn off location services and ad personalization. This means that your phone will not send your location and certain other information to the apps on your phone, preventing the apps from sharing that information with data brokers and other third parties. You can learn how to adjust your location settings with these tips from digital experts, ad settings for iOS devices can be found on Apple’s website, and ad settings for Android devices can be found on Google.
- If you need to use location services on your device, consider resetting your device’s advertising id before and after visiting sensitive locations. This will make it harder for anyone who may obtain location information from your device to connect such data to you. Instructions for resetting the advertising id are available online for iOS devices and for Android devices.
- Use a VPN and Private Web Browser: When you visit websites, information, like your location and the websites you’ve visited, is shared with the website and your internet service provider. To limit this data sharing, you can download and use tools like a private browser, which can block website trackers, and a virtual private network (VPN) on your devices. A VPN masks your IP address so that websites and internet service providers cannot track your location, and many are available for free. You should also use a private search engine, which will not save your search history, when searching for information related to abortion care.
- Send Messages via End-to-End Encrypted Platforms: When messaging someone about abortion care, use a secure messaging service that uses end-to-end encryption. End-to-end encryption is designed to ensure that only you and the recipient of your message can see the contents of your message, so it makes it difficult for any third party to spy on your messages.
- Be Careful About What You Share on Social Media: The information you post or add to your social media profile can get into the wrong hands, so be careful about the information you decide to share. You should also make your social media account private so that strangers cannot find out information about you.
- Manage Your Online Privacy Settings: Big tech companies have large amounts of data about their users. However, you can adjust your account’s privacy settings to limit how the company collects and share your information. For example, Google Maps collects information about all the locations you have visited or searched, but you can limit the location history information tied to your account as described here.
If you believe you are being tracked when trying to obtain abortion care, contact our office for help by completing and submitting an online complaint with the Bureau of Internet and Technology or by calling (800) 771-7755.
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