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Cyber Insecurities and Abortion Post-Dobbs

Like many other Gen Z’ers, I took computer classes in elementary school. We mostly practiced typing, played with clip art, and we did really simple research assignments (find a picture of a bat 🦇). Cute things.

Then in middle school my computer science teacher opened up a CPU (central processing unit) to show us the motherboard and a bunch of other stuff I don’t remember.

Three years ago I had no idea what cookies were, and I didn’t start using (or being able to afford) a VPN until 2 years ago.

I think about these core computer memories whenever I hear news related to privacy and cyber security. It’s wild that we were constantly told to be careful online, but not given any tangible steps on how to do that, especially now that tech has impacted almost every facet of our lives.

Recently, Mita, IWR’s Abortion Fund Associate, and I were reading an article on some recent cyber security issues regarding the reproductive justice world.

Please note that the following summary was written by Mita Palomares.

The article was posted recently by ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom. The article, "Websites Selling Abortion Pills Are Sharing Sensitive Data with Google," explains how 11 online pharmacies that supply abortion pills were investigated using Markup, a nonprofit tech-journalism newsroom. Out of the 11 sites investigated, nine were found to be sharing sensitive information with large tech companies such as Google and other third parties. Unfortunately all nine sites could be easily accessed through a popular resource Plan C, who explained they were not responsible for what other sites do with a user's information. According to Google's privacy policy, they reserve the right to share user's data with law enforcement so all it takes is a search warrant or court order for them to have access to sensitive information of those seeking information on obtaining an abortion. In the article by ProPublica, it is stated that in 2021 alone Google received more than 87,000 subpoenas and search warrants. There was no clarification as to how many cases specifically involved abortion medication, but it is disgusting to think that any number of those people have had their private health information shared. These are unprecedented times for reproductive rights and it's not just individuals who should be protecting their information.

Screenshot of an excerpt from the ProRepublica article that reads “Why in the world would you do that as a pharmacy website?” said Serge Egelman, research director of the Usable Security and Privacy Group at the International Computer Science Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. “Ultimately, it’s a pretty dumb thing to do.”

This is a call to any organization, website, or online pharmacy that claims to be a helping hand in the fight for reproductive justice to do better in informing and protecting their clients’ and patients’ privacy. IT’S FUCKED UP TO TRACK AND SELL THE DATA OF FOLKS SEEKING ABORTION.

We here at Indigenous Women Rising are always aiming to provide, not only the best care and resources for our clients during their abortion journey, but also to make sure that it stays private because it’s NO ONE’S damn business.

We are very disappointed and frustrated with our telehealth abortion pill pharmacy partners (HeyJane) and non-partners for this disregard for their patients privacy and wellbeing.

The internet and tech devices are some of the most used tools in academia, business/”professional”, and personal life. Tech competency is a huge skill to have in this day and age. But where are we teaching these skills? Who are the people who have the most access to technology? And are we ensuring that in times of need, people aren’t being taken advantage of? Because the fact that some folks need to hear and don’t understand that last question is fucked up.

Here are some free tips on how one could take care of their privacy online whether or not they’re seeking an abortion.

  • Feel free to ask the privacy practices of the clinic or online pharmacy. Ask them if they track or sell data from their patients/users.

  • Use incognito mode when browsing the internet.

  • Delete browsing history after looking up sensitive information. This process varies by browser or device, but google can help in figuring it out.

  • Reject and clear cookies after/while searching sensitive information.

  • Use free encrypted messaging apps like Signal that just need an existing phone number.

  • Use secure browsers like Duck Duck Go to easily clear search history and look up resources.

We at IWR are always actively learning new ways to protect our clients privacy while still doing this work. We plan to share more resources and knowledge on how folks can keep themselves safe online in the future.


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