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The Roe decision exposes all of tech's flaws

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Good morning. It’s been a week, hasn’t it? But it’s the weekend, which is a relief. It also gives us a chance to reflect on what the Roe v. Wade decision reveals about the tech industry. And, as ever, we have the biggest stories from Protocol this week.

The Roe decision exposes all of tech's flaws

Maybe the only upside of having the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision leak months before it was ready for public consumption is the fact that it at least gives the country a little time to prepare.

And tech leaders have a lot of preparing to do.

In just a week, the leaked Roe decision has shined a spotlight on the human cost of some of the tech industry’s biggest issues and has forced tech executives to rethink everything from the data they share to the benefits they offer workers.

Take the privacy questions. In the year 2022, it’s barely news that tech companies in the U.S. are allowed to collect and buy and sell deeply personal information about people, without any kind of restrictions. But the fact that location data providers like SafeGraph have been actively selling data on people traveling to and from abortion clinics hits different in the face of a post-Roe reality.

  • That’s true even for Safegraph’s CEO Auren Hoffman, who told Protocol, “It's good that we were called out,” and said the company is now reconsidering who should have access to lots of other kinds of data, too.
  • Safegraph is just one of a seemingly infinite number of companies that are going to face similar questions or risk the consequences.

Then there are the legal questions. What happens when Facebook gets subpoenaed for data on the anonymous administrator of an abortion fund group? What about when Google gets a geolocation warrant for visitors to a family planning clinic?

  • Tech companies large and small are going to have to think through how forcefully they push back on these kinds of probes and, just as importantly, what, if anything, they can do to protect user data before the courts come knocking.

There are also questions about misinformation. COVID-19 made tech giants a lot more comfortable with imposing restrictions on vaccine and other kinds of medical myths.

  • Will the platforms take an equally firm stance on misleading ads about abortion pills or unscientific claims about abortion reversal?

But the toughest question undoubtedly revolves around workers. Some 13 states have trigger laws on the books that will outlaw abortion the second SCOTUS strikes Roe. There are at least 30 big tech companies located in those states. How can those companies keep workers safe, while continuing operations in those states?

  • Some companies, like Amazon, are already offering $4,000 to workers who need to travel out of state for abortions.
  • But what about gig companies that mostly rely on contractors? Uber and Lyft have already said they’ll pay drivers’ legal fees if they’re sued in Texas and Oklahoma, which have outlawed even aiding and abetting an abortion. It’s one thing to make that promise in two states. It’s another to follow through on it if those Texas-style laws continue to spread.

Some of these questions have been open for years. But with the court’s final decision seeming all but assured, the clock is now ticking for tech companies to come up with the answers.

Issie Lapowsky (email | twitter)

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