Me – and so many other women – thinking to myself after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision: “Is tech safe anymore?”
As I’m sure many Ask Trish readers will know, on June 24th, 2022, the Supreme Court issued its decision in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022). At issue was whether American women have a Constitutional right to an abortion. In their decision, a majority (6 Justices) stated that the answer was no, overturning the landmark cases Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) and reversing 50 years of precedent. Chief Justice Roberts wrote an opinion suggesting a more narrow ruling, but he did vote with the majority. You can learn more about the Dobbs decision and what it means here.
In a post-Roe world, it’s not just abortion access that will change, but also the way people who have babies manage their reproductive health. That includes the apps we use. Why? Well, those apps, including major social media platforms – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. – all collect tons and tons of data on you, including (certainly for period apps!), sensitive health data. That data, if requested by law enforcement, might be used to show that a woman was indeed pregnant and then opted for an abortion. And it’s not just health data: Google searches for an abortion, or look-ups on an abortion clinic’s Facebook page could also be used against women that now illegally seek abortions or seek abortions out of their home state. Law enforcement will send search warrants to tech companies, who, depending on the circumstances, may be required to fulfill the requests. According to this Washington Post article, of the requests Google received from January – June of 2021, “about 82%…resulted in Google sharing some information.”
So…what should people that have periods (or can get pregnant) do? In this post – having already provided you with some crucial background information – I’ll now share a few tips on how to navigate tech in the post-Roe era.
First, change your settings so that your data isn’t stored by tech companies. Here, I’ll focus on Google, seeing as pretty much everyone uses at least one (if not several) Google products. As you may know, if you’re logged into your Google account, Google has a record of every single thing you search for (I know…yikes). The good news is that you can change how long it stores this data. Go to this link, and turn off “Web & App Activity.” You’ll also want to stop Google from storing your location data (which it really loves to do. The result has been an increase in warrants that request detailed geographic information from Google…again, yikes). Go to this link, and turn off “Location History.” In good news, as of July 1st, Google has announced that it will delete users’ location history when they visit abortion clinics, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. You can learn more about all of this/read about it in more detail at this link. You can also check out ConnectSafely’s post on How to Delete What Google Knows About You here.
Second, you may want to consider upgrading to a more privacy-friendly browser and encrypted messaging apps. Google Chrome, one of the most popular Internet browsers, is notoriously terrible at protecting your privacy (sigh; of course). If you do stick with Chrome, always switch over to Incognito mode so you never leave a trail on a computer and consider using a virtual private network (VPN) which hides your IP address. Regardless of what browser you use, log out of your Google account (or don’t sign in while using incognito mode).
And if you’re willing to switch browsers consider Safari (Mac only), Firefox, or Brave. You can also just ditch Google entirely (and skip Step 1) by using a more private search engine, like DuckDuckGo. On messaging apps, stick to those that are private and encrypted, like iMessage, WhatsApp, or Signal. (By the way, “encrypted” basically means that only the sender and receiver can see the message.) According to this article, Signal is the absolute best option, because Apple can technically decrypt iMessages and WhatsApp’s info. can technically be shared with Facebook. Read more about all of this (and gain access to another helpful, more complex guide on how to keep your info. private!) at that same link.
Finally, third, consider deleting your period tracker app. I know; this one is annoying. Millions of people that have periods rely on period tracking apps, because they’re a useful way to track periods and avoid pregnancy, but unfortunately, these apps do collect and store sensitive reproductive health data. If you need to use a period tracker app, consider using that one that has more “privacy strengths” than “privacy weaknesses” – Apple’s Health app, for instance, is encrypted end-to-end, and the widely popular app “Flo” just released an “anonymous mode,” which will allow users to de-link their personal information from their profile, so that, if asked, Flo cannot comply with requests by law enforcement for users’ health data. And if you do delete your period tracking app, don’t just stop there: if possible, do also send a data deletion request, so that the company also deletes any existing data they have you. (Note that not all companies do this, but some do, including Flo.) Read more about period tracking apps and their data collection practices here.
For those Ask Trish readers that have periods, I hope that this post is a timely, helpful resource that will inform how you engage with period apps in the future. For those Ask Trish readers that don’t have periods, I hope that this was still a valuable post for you – while you might think this issue doesn’t affect you, that’s a very narrow way of looking at it; the truth is, this issue affects so many of the people you know, including folks in your community and family. I hope you’ll pass on this knowledge and support people that do have periods.
And now, as always, I’ll wrap up with my end-of-post request: whether you’re wondering similar questions about the internet and technology or completely unrelated questions, I would absolutely love it if you’d share your thoughts here. Your topic just might be featured in an upcoming TikTok/blog post! Anything you’re experiencing is totally valid – and by sharing your perspective, you might help others in our community experiencing the same thing(s). 💙 I can’t wait to hear from you!
I’ll be back again next Tuesday! Until then,