The world before the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade is almost incomparable to today in every material way. Five decades later, as SCOTUS prepares to overturn Roe, the role of tech companies and platforms will be profound.
Businesses will need to contend with the legal fallout of a post-Roe world, in which more than 24 states are expected to ban or restrict abortion. Tech companies that collect user data or offer services will be subject to scrutiny.
The draft ruling isn’t finalized and could change dramatically when it’s handed down in June, but tech companies are already responding to the possibility — and the challenges they’ll face in the aftermath.
How are tech companies responding to the potential overturn of Roe v. Wade?
Tech companies have so far been quiet on the draft ruling. One gaming company, Bungie, spoke out against the potential ruling. Uber and Lyft said they’d cover legal fees for drivers who face legal trouble in states with restrictive abortion laws.
Abortion-related travel coverage and relocation will become key issues for tech companies in the wake of Roe v. Wade. Companies including Yelp, Amazon, Match Group and Bumble have already promised to reimburse workers who travel for abortions.
Dozens of tech companies are headquartered in states prepared to ban or heavily restrict abortion, and almost every big tech company has some presence in those states. Individual workers may choose to leave a state — which Slack said it would help with — but the issue is trickier for companies. It’s too early to determine whether relocation would be feasible in most cases.
What are the legal issues that tech companies face if Roe v. Wade is overturned?
Tech companies are in a difficult position. If and when the Supreme Court ruling becomes final, law enforcement may come calling for user data to prosecute people for seeking abortions.
The implications are far-reaching. What happens when Facebook is subpoenaed for the IP address of an abortion rights group administrator? What happens when Google allows advertisers to target abortion-related content toward users in states where it’s outlawed? What about ride-hailing apps that facilitate rides to abortion clinics? Protocol’s Ben Brody pointed out that these companies could resist requests from law enforcement, especially if the demands are particularly broad, but the case-by-case nature of the requests could quickly become a logistical nightmare — and a privacy one for users.
Which states are preparing for the overturn of Roe v. Wade?
Thirteen states have trigger laws banning abortion that immediately go into effect if Roe vs. Wade is overturned, while 14 have restrictive abortion laws that will kick in. Meanwhile, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced an amendment that would codify abortion rights into California’s constitution. The state had announced plans previously to become a “sanctuary” for people seeking abortions from out of the state, including helping out with costs such as medical bills, transportation, child care and lost wages.
How could technology put user data at risk?
User data is already bought and sold by brokers to help companies effectively target ads. In a post-Roe world, that data, which includes location of a person’s phone, the apps they use and what they search for on Google, could easily be de-anonymized and linked to users seeking to obtain an abortion.
Location data broker SafeGraph admitted to selling data on abortion clinic visits, though the company later said it didn’t realize that data was available to its clients. The data points included how long a person stayed at a clinic and where they traveled to and from. Another location data firm, Placer.ai, offered access to the same sort of information to advertisers, government customers and others for years.
Period-tracking apps store users’ self-reported data about cycles, medication and sexual activity, and while some have privacy policies that promise to keep that data private, the apps could be subpoenaed by law enforcement in states where abortion is illegal.
“Individuals using femtech, health tech and related apps should be wary about trusting these app developers’ data collection and privacy practices,” said Lourdes M. Turrecha, founder of The Rise of Privacy Tech.
Privacy experts said one way to prevent third-party access to menstrual cycle data is to store the information locally on the device instead of in the cloud. Some period-tracking apps, like Spot On and Euki, already do so.
How are platforms handling the spread of information about abortion resources?
Nonprofit and activist organizations and users are using social media to share information and resources. Gen-Z For Change has posted a series of TikTok videos breaking down the news for a younger audience, as well as discussing resources and protests. Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the advocacy and political arm of Planned Parenthood, has also covered protests and explained the significance of overturning Roe v. Wade on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter.
But given the tight content moderation rules on TikTok, some are being careful when speaking up on the issue. Strategies include switching out letters for numbers and symbols in certain captioned words so they don’t get flagged. Cosmopolitan made a TikTok where the voiceover and background video discussed Kim Kardashian’s dress at Monday’s Met Gala, while captioning the video with information about the SCOTUS opinion and where to find resources.
What digital tools are nonprofits and health care companies preparing to provide?
Nonprofits supporting people seeking abortions are preparing for an influx in calls and requests. The National Abortion Federation, which offers financial, travel and case management assistance for people seeking care out of their state, is restructuring its case management model to better serve people in states where abortion is limited or banned, as well as building “mechanisms to understand clinic capacity” by collecting data on appointment availability to get travelers the earliest appointments available.
“We are working now to understand what the hurdles are,” Veronica Jones, the nonprofit’s chief operating officer, told Protocol.Alongside its hotline, the organization also has an online map to help users find abortion care. Some hotlines are also available via text, such as the M+A Hotline, which also offers resources online on how to get and use abortion pills. Online abortion clinics like Hey Jane and Choix are expecting a surge in interest as brick-and-mortar facilities potentially become overwhelmed.