Websites that sell abortion pills share sensitive data with Google


A pack of birth control pills

This story originally appeared ProPublica.

Online pharmacies that sell abortion pills share sensitive data with Google and other third parties, which could allow law enforcement to prosecute those who use the drugs for termination of their pregnancyProPublica analysis found.

Utilization A tool created by MarkupProPublica.com, a nonprofit newsroom for tech journalism, scanned 11 online pharmacies selling abortion drugs to reveal the web-tracking technology they used. Late last year and early January, ProPublica found web trackers on the websites of at least nine online pharmacies that offer pills by mail: Ease of abortionAnd BestAbortionPill.comAnd PrivacyPillRXAnd Contraceptive pillsAnd Safe abortion pillsAnd miscarriageAnd Generic abortion pillsAnd Abortion privacy And Abortion pills online rx.

Third-party tracking tools, including the Google Analytics tool and advertising technologies, collect a host of details about users and feed them to tech giant Google, its parent company, Alphabet, and other third parties, such as online chat provider LiveChat. These details include the web addresses users visited, what they clicked on, the search terms they used to find a website, the previous site they visited, their general location, and information about the devices they used, such as whether they were using a computer or phone. This information helps websites function and helps technology companies personalize ads.

ProPublica’s analysis found that the nine sites also send data to Google that potentially identifies users, including a random number unique to the user’s browser, which can then be linked to other collected data.

“Why on earth would you do that as a pharmacy website?” said Serge Eaglemann, director of research in the Usable Security and Privacy group at the International Computer Science Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. “In the end, it’s a very stupid act.”

Representatives for the nine sites did not respond to requests for comment. They are all recommended on the popular website Plan C, which provides information on how to obtain abortion pills by mail, including in states where abortion is illegal. Plan C has stated that it has no control over these sites or their privacy practices.

While many people might assume their health information is legally protected, US privacy law does little to restrict the type or amount of data that companies like Google and Facebook can collect from individuals. Tech companies generally do not comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA, which limits the time that health care providers and health plans can share a patient’s medical information. Federal law also doesn’t place many restrictions on how companies can use this data.

Law enforcement can obtain people’s data from technology companies like Google, whose privacy policies say the companies reserve the right to share users’ data with law enforcement. The Google Requires a court order or search warrant, which law enforcement can obtain with probable cause to believe the search is justified. Company received More than 87,000 subpoenas and search warrants in the US in 2021, latest year available; It does not provide a breakdown of these requests by type, such as the number of abortion medications included.

“Any data in Google Analytics is garbled and aggregated in a way that prevents it from being used to identify an individual, and our policies prohibit customers from sending us data that could be used to identify a user,” Steve Ghanem, Google Analytics product manager, said in a statement.



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