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Data Broker reportedly selling location data of people visiting abortion clinics
A week's worth of data about locations of people visiting these clinics costs about $160

A torn banner on planned parenthood placed with two candles

Data Broker is selling data on locations of people who visit abortion clinics.
Source: The Washington Post/ crast.net

A location data company is reportedly selling information connected to visits to clinics providing abortion facilities including that of Planned Parenthood. This information mainly refers to ones revealing specific data about the groups of people visiting the places. This includes where they came from, the duration of their stay, along with the place they went on to after the visit to these locations.

In the context of a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion, the act of data sale is clearly more crucial. In this opinion, Justice Alito specified that the court is set to repeal the decision in Roe vs. Wade, the decades-old precedent that has given federal protections to ones seeking abortions. Moreover, if this draft turns into a formal decision, it would entirely or partly ban abortion rights in a minimum of 13 states almost immediately.

The connection between data collection with that of abortion rights, or otherwise, would expectantly attract more attention in the wake of the draft. Moreover, the US might also witness an increase in vigilante activity or instances of tracking and harassment against ones seeking abortions, along with ones providing them. Customers could possibly include anti-abortion vigilantes too, owing to such location data available in the market. Clearly anti-abortion groups are already somewhat adept at utilising technology for their agenda. For example, an advertising CEO, in 2016, working with anti-abortion and Christian groups distributed targeted ads to women sitting in clinics of Planned Parenthood to change their minds. The selling of this particular type of data raises inquiries around why the data on sale are only from such clinics.

“It’s bonkers dangerous to have abortion clinics and then let someone buy the census tracks where people are coming from to visit that abortion clinic,” said Zach Edwards, a cybersecurity researcher.

With  Texas nearing total ban on abortions, people in the state seeking abortion are increasingly travelling to other states to get the care required. As Roe is likely to fall, people living in conservative states are travelling to other states, provided they have the means. Lawmakers and regulators should urgently see into how the data is collected due to the travel information it provides.

Reportedly, the company involved in selling the data is SafeGraph, which mainly gains location information through mundane apps installed on smartphones. App developers often installing code called software development kits (SDKs) in apps to send users’ data to firms in exchange for a payment. The company repackages this data and others into several products. According to reports, CDC purchased $420,000 worth of data from them for a laundry list Covid-19, and non- Covid-19 use cases. As of June 2021, Google banned SafeGraph from its Play Store.

‘Planned Parenthood’ appeared to be classified as a ‘brand’ by SafeGraph which it can track, with the data including over 600 Planned Parenthood locations in the country. It had a week’s worth of location informations from these places from mid-April. The company appeared to refer to the location data product as ‘Patterns,’ with the information costing $160. The data did not reveal the specific detail pertaining to movements of the devices, rather focussing on the group movements of them.

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