The US House Oversight Committee is examining a collection of time-tracking apps and data brokers in light of emerging concerns about how to weaponize private health data in the emerging post-Roe v. Wade era.
The committee today sent letters to data brokers SafeGraph, Babel Street, Digital Envoy, Placer.ai and Gravy Analytics and app makers Flo Health, Glow, GP International, Clue developer BioWink and Digitalchemy Ventures.
In the letters, the representatives asked for information about the companies’ data collection and retention policies “including records and communications regarding the actual or potential production of such data to outside entities voluntarily or subject to legal obligation, such as a subpoena.” The lawmakers also asked for information explaining each company’s data-sharing practices and how much revenue and profit those companies have made with that data going back five years.
“Collecting sensitive data can pose serious threats to those seeking reproductive care and to providers of such care, not only by facilitating intrusive government surveillance, but also by putting people at risk of harassment, intimidation and even violence.” committee wrote.
“Geographic data collected by cell phones can be used to locate people seeking care in clinics, and search and chat histories referencing clinics or medications create digital breadcrumbs revealing interest in an abortion.”
The investigation is led by President Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Chair of the Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee, Raja Krishnamoorthi, and Rep. Sarah Jacobs. Lawmakers have set a July 22 deadline for the companies to comply with the requests.
With Roe repealed and abortion no longer a protected federal right in the US, privacy advocates, lawmakers and consumers have expressed concern that location and health data could be used against people seeking to have an abortion in the US
Both types of data give a very personal picture of a person’s behavior. Health and period-focused apps can track missed periods and fertility cycles, while location data from users bought and sold by shady data companies can provide accurate location information that could imply anyone who visits an abortion provider.
The White House cited its own concerns about digital surveillance and companies that collect or sell “sensitive health-related data” in a Friday afternoon new executive order aimed at protecting access to abortion.
Last week, Google announced it would erase location tracking data for “particularly personal” places, including abortion and fertility centers. In May, Congressional Democrats wrote a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai urging the company to expand new privacy measures in the face of Roe v. Wade’s impending reversal.
Consumers are also taking matters into their own hands, trading their current menstrual trackers for alternative apps they see as safer, though in some cases jumping out of the skillet and into the fire.