Anyone who regularly uses the web will find that a search can lead to a seemingly endless wave of targeted ads based on data collection efforts – and last month it was reported that Facebook may have pushed this to a new level. extreme. Reveal reporters from the Center for Investigative Reporting had uncovered evidence that the social network was collecting sensitive personal information about users who visited crisis pregnancy center websites.
The report’s findings certainly raise many questions about how this data could be used, even as Meta – Facebook’s parent company – currently prohibits websites and apps that use the platform’s advertising technology from sending sexual and reproductive health data to Facebook.
Yet Reveal and The Markup found Facebook’s code on the websites of hundreds of anti-abortion clinics.
“Social media is just one part of our data monitoring environment. Google search history is probably worse than a social media account,” said Anne Washington, assistant professor of data science at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.
“The ethics of data privacy is a growing concern for the general public, which I personally find encouraging,” added Andrew Reifers, associate professor at the University of Washington Information School.
“Over the past few decades, there has been a trend of individuals voluntarily giving up their own privacy for the return of ease of use and immediate information or functionality,” Reifers said. “I’ve heard other cybersecurity professionals and privacy experts make flippant comments that the CIA has long tried to accomplish data surveillance on the same scale and level as Facebook. This trend is beginning finally to change significantly as individuals become increasingly aware that their data can be used for profit through targeted advertising or simply mass surveillance.”
However, the question is how this data might be used now with regard to searches for abortion services.
“While I totally agree that this is something we should seriously consider, and I respect the work of journalists investigating how anti-abortion groups might be using over-shared data to target abortion seekers, the change in Roe v. Wade doesn’t mark a big technical change,” Reifers noted. and a significant shift towards increased transparency due to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Data Privacy Act (CDPA). I also view the ethics of the issue as a relative constant.”
It is always important to note that individuals should have the right to know how their data is shared and/or used in a clear and transparent manner.
“With the complexity of modern web applications and interconnected third-party services, it can be difficult for technology companies to provide a simple, holistic explanation of how an individual’s data is shared, but that’s no excuse. “, said Reifers. “If a company accepts or, even worse, demands data from a user, that user must be able to understand what the company will do with the data. The biggest challenge here is that we often lay blame or liability on the technical parties which are not initially accepting the data.”
There are also concerns about what it might mean legally.
“New laws that build on the Dobbs decision would be difficult to prosecute were it not for current data collection practices,” Washington explained. “New laws prosecute if a failed pregnancy can be linked to premeditation, planning or malicious intent. The indisputable biological fact of a miscarriage can now be combined with digital evidence to prosecute someone for intent to terminate a pregnancy. The tech industry lets prosecutors see us in ways we can’t see ourselves through mass access to our texts, posts, and search queries.”
Some users may even see a wave of targeted ads from certain groups.
“While targeted advertising can be very effective and it is highly likely that anti-abortion groups will use this moment to begin sending targeted advertising to individuals and potentially alarmists, it is extremely unlikely that this data will be used by law enforcement against individuals seeking abortions,” Reifers said.
Likewise, social media platforms will always have the ability to protect user data, and users’ search history is unlikely to simply be turned over to law enforcement.
“The tech industry may demand that law enforcement meet a higher standard for requesting data in Dobbs-related cases,” Washington said. “A suspicious neighbor calling the police shouldn’t be enough to initiate a lawsuit demanding access to someone’s entire account.