NEW YORK – With fertility laws and abortion rights shifting, privacy experts warn that information about menstrual and ovulation cycles collected to help follow cycles or to help fertility can also be used as evidence of a pregnancy being terminated by overzealous prosecutors.
Letitia James gave tips on how to protect the privacy of women seeking medical care, including abortions. The New York Attorney General also gave advice to help prevent unwanted digital detection and data sharing.
“People use fertility tracking applications and location services every day, but if they are not careful, their personal information could end up in the wrong hands,” James said. “With abortion rights at stake, it’s more important than ever for everyone to take their digital privacy seriously. I appeal to everyone, especially those who visit abortion clinics or seek abortion care, to follow the tips my office offers and more be careful of the applications and websites they use. Safe, accessible abortion care is the future we fight for and I am committed to protecting every woman’s freedom of reproduction. “
Recent reports have indicated that certain websites and consumer applications, such as those that women can use to track fertility and menstrual cycles, have collected and shared consumers’ personal information such as detailed reproductive history, physical location and other personal information, James said. That data could then be unknowingly shared with third parties and then used against individuals seeking abortion care or those who help them, without their knowledge, she explained.
New York lawmakers have vowed to protect the right to abortion in the state. Part of this protection is expected to include enhanced privacy protections for medical records and health information provided to third-party health and fertility detection programs.
“It is critical that the privacy of those seeking abortion services be 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 improve privacy protection, and commend the Attorney General for taking this proactive step and providing patients with valuable information on how to better secure their personal information.”
Attorney General James recommends that individuals seeking abortion care consider taking steps to protect their digital privacy:
- Turn off location services and ad personalization on your devices: Before going to a sensitive location, such as an abortion clinic, you can adjust your phone settings to turn off location services and ad personalization, which prevents programs from sharing that information with third parties. Tips from digital experts on how to change your location settings can be found here. Information on how to change ad settings can be found at Apple and Google. If you need to use location services on your device, you can get information about resetting your device’s ad ID, before and after your visit, from Apple and Google.
- Use a VPN and private web browser: To restrict data sharing, you can use a private browser, which can block website trackers, and a virtual private network (VPN) on your devices.
- Send messages via end-to-end encrypted platforms: When sending messages about abortion care, use a secure messaging service that uses end-to-end encryption, making it difficult for third parties to spy on you.
- Be careful about what you share on social media: You need to make your social media account private so that third parties can not find out information about you.
- Manage your online privacy settings: You can adjust your account’s privacy settings to limit how large technology companies collect and share your data. Google Maps collects information about all the locations you have visited or searched for, but you can find out here how to narrow down the location history information associated with your account.
If you believe you are being tracked down when trying to obtain abortion care, you can contact the Attorney General’s Office for assistance by completing and filing a complaint here or by calling (800) 771-7755.