Roe is dead. It’s past time for tech to fight back.
Hello and welcome to Protocol Policy! Today, we’re talking about what tech companies must do if they want any credibility in a post-Roe reality. Also, Congress got another 5 billion reasons to pass the CHIPS Act and more trouble for TikTok?
Tech giants made clear when the Roe v. Wade decision came out on Friday — and even when it leaked in May — that they had a plan to take care of their own. They would pay for travel and abortion care for their employees in states with restrictive laws and pay the legal bills of workers sued for aiding and abetting an abortion in states like Texas where that’s now illegal.
But those same companies have been awfully silent about any broader plans to defend abortion rights. How do they plan to protect their millions of users, who now stand to have their data weaponized against them in a post-Roe world — their clinic visits tracked, their searches for “mifepristone” subpoenaed?
For all tech's talk about protecting user privacy, the industry has yet to vocalize a plan to address what is about to be one of the biggest privacy risks in a generation.
A national privacy law is, at this point, an obvious and urgent safeguard. But the bipartisan privacy bill currently making its way through Congress isn’t going to be enough.
- The bill, which passed the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee last week, would impose new data minimization requirements on companies and create new limitations on location data-sharing.
- But even reducing data collection to what is “reasonably necessary, proportionate, and limited” could wind up leaving a lot of data exposed.
- Besides, after claiming to support privacy legislation for years, tech industry groups are now pushing back against the bipartisan compromise over concerns that it would open the door to lawsuits against them.
Democratic lawmakers have introduced other measures that cut to the heart of the issue. That includes the My Body, My Data Act, proposed by Sen. Ron Wyden and a slew of Democratic colleagues last week.
- That bill would specifically create privacy protections for personal reproductive health data, leaving it up to the FTC to enforce. But this one-sided measure is as good as dead without Republicans, who hardly seem eager to line up behind an effort to protect data on abortion providers and seekers right now.
- Democrats, including Wyden, have also backed efforts to prohibit data brokers from selling location and health information. But in states where abortion will now be illegal, obtaining a court order to get that same data likely won’t be much of an issue.
That leaves it to tech companies to do more to proactively protect their users, if they really mean what they say about defending reproductive rights.
- “If tech companies don’t want to have their data turned into a dragnet against people seeking abortions and people providing abortion support, they need to stop collecting that data now. Don’t have it for sale. Don’t have it when a subpoena arrives,” tweeted Eva Galperin, director of Cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
- That means expanding end-to-end encryption, limiting data collection and sharing, and curbing AI tools that could reveal users’ pregnancy status, wrote Alexandra Reeve Givens, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, which counts Meta, Twitter, Microsoft, Uber and others as advisers.
- It also means fighting back against overly broad legal requests and making users aware when they’re under investigation.
“In this new environment, tech companies must step up and play a crucial role in protecting women’s digital privacy and access to online information,” Reeve Givens wrote.
And unless they believe that access to reproductive health is just a perk for their employees, not a fundamental right, they must do more than stay silent. Though maybe their silence speaks volumes.— Issie Lapowsky (email | twitter)
Republicans are going after TikTok on national security again. On Thursday, six Republican Senators — Tom Cotton, Ben Sasse, Mike Braun, Marco Rubio, Todd Young and Roger Wicker — sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asking why the Biden administration hasn’t enforced former President Trump’s order requiring Bytedance to divest all American assets. Concerns about TikTok have reemerged following a Buzzfeed report from earlier this month that found data from U.S. users had been accessed in China.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is taking a harder look at so-called rent-a-bank lending. At a recent consumer group conference, CFPB Deputy Director Zixta Martinez said the agency is taking a “close look” at those partnerships, which often involve fintech companies. In particular, Martinez called out the high default rates of that lender class, saying it raised questions “about whether their products set borrowers up for failure.”
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How to build an equitable and inclusive future: At the same time that the pandemic demonstrated all that is possible in an interconnected world, we saw in new and increasingly stark ways how certain communities continue to be marginalized and harmed by a persistent digital divide and how effectively that divide exacerbates our society’s other inequities.
In the states
A $5 billion silicon wafer manufacturing facility is coming to Texas, Taiwan-based GlobalWafers said Monday. The project could still be eligible for subsidies from Congress contained in the CHIPS Act. Once the facility is up and running, GlobalWafers aims to produce 1.2 million wafers monthly for advanced semiconductors.
Apple has accepted the unionization bid by retail workers in a Maryland store and is ready to bargain with them, Reuters reports. The Maryland store has become the first Apple retail store in the U.S. to unionize successfully, though two New York retail stores are considering following suit.
Los Angeles city council members are considering a ban on the construction of any new gas stations. Paul Koretz, a Los Angeles city council member, said the policy would help figure out “how to move off the gas-powered car.” Petaluma, a small city in California, instituted a ban on new gas stations last year.
In the courts
Are tech companies prepared for another big decision from the Supreme Court? Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion for the overturning of Roe v. Wade signaled that he may also reconsider federal protections for contraception and same-sex marriage. Protocol asked 22 companies, including Meta and Microsoft, whether they had prepared for such a scenario. The companies reiterated their abortion ban coverage responses, but did not provide information on how they would respond to such a ruling.
Protocol has a roundup of our coverage relating to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. Topics include how the decision will affect Big Tech, how tech companies are responding and how it impacts public privacy.
Amazon Web Services said a probe by Oppenheimer Investigations Group found no evidence of discrimination or harassment. The so-called ProServe unit within AWS has faced five discrimination lawsuits. As Protocol’s Joe Williams notes, however, this may not be the end of Amazon’s troubles.Protocol has a look at Sealed, a company that will eat the cost of green energy retrofits for your home, assuming they don’t pay for themselves with lower energy bills. The company specializes in upgrades such as adding installation, installing heat pumps and air-sealing attics.
Around the world
The U.K. is trying to lure U.S. tech talent away with its new High Potential Individual visa. The visa targets graduates from elite schools around the world, 20 of which are based in the U.S., including Stanford, MIT and CalTech. And unlike H-1B visas, applicants don’t need a job offer to apply.
In the media, culture and metaverse
Instagram failed to stop a man who was already arrested for sexual expoitation of children from continuing to create new accounts, where he went on to distribute exploitative images of children. Forbes found another 15 accounts posting similar content, and Meta responded by suspending 11 of them.
Period-tracking apps are scrambling to keep users anonymous in the wake of the Dobbs decision. One app, Flo, told The Wall Street Journal it’s working on an Anonymous Mode feature. The CEO of another, Natural Cycles, said, “The goal is to make it so no one — not even us at Natural Cycles — can identify the user.”
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How to build an equitable and inclusive future
There is so much more we need to do to make sure our future is more equitable and inclusive and maximizes America’s potential. It is not enough just to ensure everyone is connected. We also need to extend the full scope of digital opportunity to the people, the communities, and the institutions.
In the c-suite
Meta told employees not to discuss the Roe v. Wade decision, citing the risk of “creating a hostile work environment.” One engineer at the company wrote on LinkedIn that moderators on Workplace “swiftly remove posts or comments mentioning abortion.”
6% year-over-year: That’s how much China’s corporate profits dipped in May 2022, compared to the previous year, according to The National Bureau of Statistics. COVID-19 lockdown restrictions are continuing to ease in Beijing and Shanghai, following a brutal stretch that lasted months in some cases. Some manufacturers, such as Tesla, said production had already returned to normal.
An Instant Pot … but which one?
Ah, Prime Day — the occasion that brings us together through a mutual frustration with the sheer number of Instant Pots on the market. (I recently learned that Instant Pot is a brand, but I think it deserves the Kleenex treatment as a generic term.) Anyhow, growth for Amazon’s Prime Day seems to be slowing: Revenue from the upcoming event is expected to increase 17% this year, compared to the 65% growth rate recorded in a previous year, according to Insider Intelligence estimates cited by The Wall Street Journal. Consumer sentiment is indeed at all-time lows, but this trend has been years in the making.
Thanks for reading — see you Wednesday!