How to protect your data in a post Roe v Wade world

The fall of Roe v. Wade raises serious concerns about or online data of women could be used to prosecute them in states where abortion will soon be illegal or is now illegal.

The thinking is that the digital footprints women leave when discussing or searching for information about abortions or clinics could be picked up by law enforcement in anti-abortion states and used as evidence in cases against them.

It is not unheard of for authorities to use women’s online data, including abortion search history, to prosecute cases† And with the possibility that anti-abortion states could try to prosecute women who have abortions, protecting your online data has become increasingly urgent.

While this list isn’t exhaustive in how it can help you protect your data, it’s a resource to get you started if you find yourself needing it.

Losing your data

Many women have removed period-tracking apps for fear that the information they collect could be used against them in the future. But this is a dangerous move in two respects. The first is that uninstalling the app doesn’t delete the data a company already has on you, and it’s not just period-tracking apps that collect tons of information.

Before deleting your account in any app, be it period tracking or even a social media app, ask a company to delete your data on their side first. This ensures that it has no information about you to pass on to authorities.

You should not remove the app itself until you have submitted a request to the company to remove your data.

Use a privacy-oriented web browser

Chrome is the world’s most popular web browser with a global market share of nearly 65%, according to Statcounter† But Chrome isn’t exactly the most personal browser. After all, Google parent Alphabet (GOOGGOOGL) gets the vast majority of its revenue from ad sales, and the more data it can collect about its users, the better it can target them with ads.

To wipe away the breadcrumbs left behind while you browse the web, you can download and use private browsers instead. brave browser is a highly rated web browser that eliminates user data such as cookies and blocks third-party trackers. And because Brave is based on Google’s open source software Chromium, but largely stripped of its tracking capabilities, you can still access the vast majority of Chrome-compatible websites.

The Brave browser is a privacy-oriented web browser.  (Image: Brave Software)

The Brave browser is a privacy-oriented web browser. (Image: Brave Software)

If you just change your browser, it doesn’t matter if you also use a search engine that tracks your usage, such as Google. To better protect yourself and your anonymity, you can try DuckDuckGoa privacy-focused search engine that promotes itself as a means of preventing third parties from collecting your user data.

Use VPNs to Hide Your Location

VPNs, or virtual private networks, essentially create a tunnel through the web that allows you to connect to the same websites you normally do, but without specifying your own internet protocol or IP address. Think of an IP address as the mailing address of your device. It tells websites where you are physically located, which can be used to provide you with things like hyperlocal search results, as well as recognize where you are surfing from.

However, a VPN spoofs your actual location data, meaning if you’re in, say, Texas or another anti-abortion state, and want to look up information about getting an abortion in New Jersey, where it’s legal, you could get it appearing as if you are actually browsing from Jersey instead of Texas.

This can also help hide your identity online, especially when combined with a privacy-focused browser and privacy-forward search engine.

Understand what information apps collect

The apps you use every day also collect huge amounts of data about you. It’s not just the data you dump into those apps, like photos, status updates, or birth dates. Apps can also collect data about your surfing behavior in other apps and websites.

That’s why it’s important to understand exactly what kind of data apps and websites collect about you. In a perfect world, you could do this quickly for every app and website you use. But that’s just not tenable given the many apps and sites most people use on a daily basis.

Apple's app tracking transparency can prevent apps from tracking your information on the web.  (Image: Apple)

Apple’s app tracking transparency can prevent apps from tracking your information on the web. (Image: Apple)

Instead, you can focus on the apps you would use to discuss or research abortions. Apple (AAPL) has a feature called App Transparency Tracking (ATT), which can give you a detailed look at the kind of information apps collect about you. You can also select whether apps can access certain features on your smartphone, including GPS data. Google is working on a similar tool.

It’s also important to read the privacy policies of apps to determine whether or not they share your data with third parties and to find out their views on working with governments. Some companies try to limit the amount of information they submit to authorities via subpoena, while others do not. Reviewing their privacy policies will give you a better understanding of how secure your data is while using certain apps.

Use encrypted communication tools

Online communications, whether that be emails or text messages, can also be used against women in abortion-related lawsuits. To avoid that, it’s best to use services that provide end-to-end encryption.

End-to-end encryption encrypts your data using a special key from the moment it leaves your phone or device until it reaches the person you are messaging. Only the person you sent it to can decrypt the message, preventing third parties from capturing your data.

Apps like WhatsApp and Signal offer end-to-end encryption, which means no one, not even their parent companies, can access your conversations. That means that even if the government tried to subpoena your data, Meta, WhatsApp’s parent company, and Signal won’t be able to transfer anything.

Email services such as Proton Mail also provide end-to-end encryption features. When you email another Proton Mail user, messages are automatically encrypted end-to-end, and when you email, say, a Gmail user, you can set a password to allow the user to decrypt your messages.

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