new York “Historical” is an overused adjective. In this case it hits the nail on the head. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn federal abortion rights after half a century has created massive new rifts in US society.
The consequences can hardly be overestimated. The decision specifically endangers the lives of women, as doctors warn. It fuels centrifugal political forces and enables the criminalization of rape victims in several states. Last but not least, it is also becoming a problem for the tech giants who guard the data of abortion doctors and clinics as well as customers.
13 US states have already largely banned abortions, and almost half are planning stricter laws. Against this background, the responsibility of the tech companies is evident.
Tricky questions arise, for example, when moderating posts on the subject of abortion on social media platforms: where can women still get serious information on the subject? Above all, however, the focus is on data protection: What happens, for example, if the authorities of a state confiscate user and location data and use it as evidence in criminal proceedings against women who have had abortions?
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It is now also completely unclear how trips to other states for the purpose of abortion will be handled, which state law applies in the borderless virtual space, and which line the politically mostly opportunistic tech giants will take.
Google wants to support employees with relocations
How to deal with the end of Roe v. Calf? There’s an uncomfortable silence in Silicon Valley on this question. Meta, Twitter, TikTok, and Reddit have largely remained silent on how they will handle abortion-related data and posts.
Google at least stated that it would support employees with relocations – and that they would delete the location data of users who have visited an abortion clinic. Microsoft, Apple, Salesforce and Uber, in turn, announced that they would cover the travel expenses for abortions by employees, as the trading house Robinhood has compiled. More details remain open. As is often the case with tech giants, there is no transparency.
The fact is: Sensitive data is currently being siphoned off en masse in the USA – by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Drug offenses, illegal content and other crimes are mostly involved. Abortions could soon follow. Will chat messages, location data and Amazon orders be issued in the future that indicate an illegal abortion? Not unlikely. The first apps for period monitoring are already working on the anonymization of user data. But is that enough? Possibly not.
The decision of the conservative majority of judges in the Supreme Court not only reveals the culture war raging in the American heartland, but also the unresolved question of the responsibility of the tech giants for more than 20 years. There is no rapid improvement in sight.
More: How the US abortion debate is becoming a tightrope act for corporations