Warren Leads Senators Blasting Data Brokers for Collecting and Selling Cell Phone Location Data of People Who Visit Abortion Clinics
With Roe v. Wade under threat, sale of data was “simply unconscionable, risking the safety and security of women everywhere”
Washington, D.C. – United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) led thirteeen of her Senate colleagues today in letters to SafeGraph and Placer.ai, two data brokers, blasting the companies for collecting and selling the cellphone-based location data of people who visit abortion clinics and risking the safety of anyone seeking access to abortion services. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s leaked draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, the senators are demanding answers about the companies’ data collection practices and calling on them to create a complete and permanent ban on these and similar practices.
Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.); Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee; Tina Smith (D-Minn.); Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chair of the Senate Budget Committee; Ed Markey (D-Mass.); Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.); Cory Booker (D-N.J.); Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chair of the Senate Rules Committee; Chris Murphy (D-Conn.); Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chair of the Senate Finance Committee; Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.); Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) joined the letter.
“Democrats need to use every tool possible to defend Americans’ right to an abortion and protect women’s health. With an extremist Supreme Court poised to overturn Roe, I’m calling out data-broker companies for their disturbing practices of selling and transferring the personal information of women visiting abortion clinics, including their cell-phone location data. These practices are deeply concerning and risk the safety of everyone seeking access to abortion care,” said Senator Warren.
“Anti-abortion activists have already used location data to send targeted anti-choice ads to women’s phones while they are sitting in abortion clinics… Anti-abortion politicians in Republican-led states have placed bounties on women who receive abortions and doctors that provide them and even proposed laws that would punish pregnant people for traveling to seek abortions out of state. Anti-abortion prosecutors have used search and message data to criminally charge abortion seekers,” wrote the senators. “These and other practices targeting women seeking necessary health care services are almost certain to escalate if Roe v. Wade is gutted and abortion is criminalized instantly in states across the nation. Under these circumstances, [your company’s] decision to sell data that allowed any buying customer to determine the locations of people seeking abortion services was simply unconscionable, risking the safety and security of women everywhere.”
Data brokers across the country use a similar three-step business model. First, companies collect untold amounts of data from Americans when they use websites and mobile applications, oftentimes without the consumer’s informed consent or knowledge. Second, data brokers scoop up that information in bulk and repackage that information for sale. Third, purchasers of all stripes buy the data for almost any purpose, reaping massive profits for the $200 billion data-broker industry.
But the senators noted that SafeGraph and Placer.ai’s sale of abortion clinic data is especially pernicious, even by the low standards of the largely unregulated data-broker market. The companies collect incredibly precise location and time data from millions of Americans’ phones. The data can reveal where people who visit abortion clinics came from, where they go afterwards, and even where they live. And anyone can buy the companies’ data — or in Placer.ai’s case, access some of the data simply by creating a free account — including individuals, corporations, and governments who want to learn who is seeking abortion care and where they are.
The senators further called out the two companies for their lackluster responses to the public outcry over their data collection practices involving people who visit abortion clinics. Neither company provided any information about the number of people impacted, who accessed their data, whether their data removals would be permanent, or other remedial practices.
Given the grave threats to abortion rights and women’s and health care providers’ safety if Roe v. Wade is gutted, the senators are calling on the two companies to give detailed answers to their questions about the companies’ disturbing practices by May 31, 2022.
As the right to abortion is under attack by the Supreme Court and Republican extremists across the country, Senator Warren has mobilized Congress and the American people in the national fight to protect the right to choose:
- On May 10, 2022, Senator Warren delivered a speech on the floor of the United States Senate on the need to protect the constitutional right to an abortion, pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, and fight back against Republican extremism.
- On May 9, 2022, Senator Warren wrote an op-ed in Marie Claire about the need to enshrine the right to an abortion in federal law.
- On May 3, 2022, when the draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked, Senator Warren spoke on the steps of the Supreme Court twice to activists, protestors, and the nation about the need to protect abortion rights.
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