Nearly three billion profiles and other data of “actively pregnant” women or women who “buy maternity products” worldwide are put up for sale by US data brokers.
This, according to a study that uncovered 32 different brokers selling access to mobile IDs of individuals, who, according to their broker-built profiles, appear to be pregnant or buy things as if they are. That is, automatically assigned identifiers of individuals are sold so that they can be targeted with specific advertisements. For example, you can buy a large number of IDs that meet a number of requirements and have ad networks show your ads on those devices.
The data is usually ‘anonymized’, but with enough data, people can be deanonymized based on their whereabouts, background and habits. For example, even if you don’t have a Facebook or Twitter profile, the internet’s data brokers can still profile you based on your online activities by tracking you using the assigned ID.
In addition to the aforementioned 2.9 billion profiles, Gizmodo reports that there are an additional 478 million profiles for sale from customers who are “interested in pregnancy” or “plan to become pregnant.” It’s worth noting that these datasets overlap, and Gizmodo admits that the specific number of different individuals’ data for sale is unclear.
In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, in states where abortion is now illegal, this data could put women at risk of prosecution — either by law enforcement officers or vigilantes seeking to collect premiums for women who want to terminate their pregnancies.
According to Hush co-founder and president Lynn Raynault, the co-founder of digital privacy startup Hush, there are some 1,200 data brokers in the US. “The main characteristic of data brokers is that they have no respect for the privacy of the individuals they collect data about and usually disregard who is buying that information,” she said. The register.
“In a Roe v. Wade world post, this information can be used against people who seek abortions and against those who perform abortions,” Raynault added. “Data brokers look every corner to make money based on the data they possess. If they decide to combine their knowledge of a person’s home and relatives with health care data, they can easily connect the dots in identifying individuals who have abortions. want.”
This poses a number of threats to varying degrees, she continued. At a grassroots level, this could lead to women wishing to have abortions revealing their home addresses and contact details.
“Essentially, the people who once pecked outside of Planned Parenthood could instead go straight to someone’s home, either the abortion seeker or provider,” Raynault said.
However, selling access to a profile’s location, health care, and purchase information could have more serious consequences in states like Texas, which now has a law on the books banning any citizen who successfully becomes an abortion provider, a health center employee, or anyone access to an abortion after six weeks helps claim a premium of at least $10,000.
“In places like Texas that have an abortion law, you can easily imagine this mighty mob rule,” Raynault said.
The study also published a list of all 32 companies and, for 19 of them, their data sources. Sources include self-reported surveys, geolocations, mobile app downloads, public records, social media data, purchases, and the company’s own internal data analysis.
A company, AlikeAudience, which apparently sells access to approximately 61 million iOS users in a “pregnancy and maternity stage”, claims to “collect data from various sources such as user downloads and usage of mobile apps, geolocations, public records such as POI and self-provided information.”
The report suggests that the broker determines whether a user is in a pregnancy stage through AlikeAudience’s relationship with Mastercard, for example: if someone buys maternity clothes with this credit card.
Another company, Quotient, claims to sell data on 9.6 million iPhone and Android device users who allegedly purchased pregnancy tests and/or “women’s contraceptives.” Formerly known as Coupons.com, this company has instant access to data on what types of products, birth control and otherwise, customers download coupons and presumably buy.
Quotient also has an exclusive advertising partnership with Giant Eagle that gives it access to the pharmacy chain’s purchase data, app usage, and web data.
In response to Roe’s overthrow, a series of new bills introduced by Democratic lawmakers would make it illegal for data brokers to sell sensitive location and health information about medical treatments and personal information that fertility apps track, such as when someone is ovulating or having sex. .
In addition, the Federal Trade Commission has warned companies that it will take legal action against companies selling this type of personal information with insufficient privacy safeguards. ®