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How to keep your data safe in a post-Roe world

Nervous about data surveillance in the post-Roe world? Reckon talked to Caitlin Seeley George, campaign director for Fight for the Future, which works to make technology a force for empowerment, free expression and liberation rather than tyranny, corruption and structural inequality.

George offered some tips to keep your data and your health information safe.

Limit who you tell about your pregnancy or abortion

The most likely way law enforcement will find and prosecute people who have had abortions is from citizens who call in tips. So limit the number of people you tell about the procedure. Don’t even tell your workout instructor or your supervisor at work.

Protect your browsing activity

Use a browser like DuckDuckGo or FireFox. And always use these browsers in private mode. If you can afford to pay for a VPN (virtual private network), data experts recommend ExpressVPN or NordVPN. There are free VPNs available, but they have fewer safety protections.

If you are using a search engine to find abortion resources, beware of results directing you to the websites of crisis pregnancy centers, which often present themselves as women’s clinics or abortion clinics. Many of the facilities operate on completely volunteer staff, and are not bound to HIIPA laws.

“These centers often appear at the top of Google search results because they pay to be there, not because they are legitimate,” George said.

You can find more information about crisis pregnancy centers here.

Turn off location services. Leave your phone at home if you can.

Our cellphones collect tons of data about our location. Some apps are collecting data continuously, even while you are not using the app.

Google Maps has a feature called Timeline that tracks your location and the time you spent at each location even when you are not using Google Maps. Go to your Google account, click on location history and turn it off.

Delete period tracking apps

If your period tracker app stores your data in the cloud instead of directly to your device, delete it. You should only use period tracker apps that only store your data locally on your device, not in the cloud. There are some apps available that only store your location locally. George recommended these apps:

Euki

Drip

Periodical

Euki and Drip are both available for Android and iOS. Periodical is only available for Android users.

“If you are using apps that gather health or biometric data you should ensure that the information is stored on your device and not in the cloud. Data stored off device can be accessed, as well as sold or shared by the companies collecting it,” George said. “This is how law enforcement can gather data on people without a warrant, by going through data brokers that amass and organize this data.”

Don’t leave your phone unattended and turn off biometric features

Make sure your devices are password protected. Using FaceID or other biometric methods like fingerprints can make it easier for someone to use your face or fingertip to unlock your phone, George said. Your messages and data are not protected if someone can read them from your device.

“If your information is on your device you still need to safeguard it to make sure people can’t access your phone. Using your face or finger to unlock your phone does make it somewhat easier for someone else to unlock it (by placing it in front of your face or your finger on it). It is more secure to lock your phone with a passcode that others don’t know,” she said.

If you previously used biometric on your device, turn that feature off and make sure your biometric data isn’t being stored in the cloud, George said.

Use encrypted messaging apps

Apps collect tons of data through gathering data from your messaging apps. Think only you can read your messages? Think again.

When sending messages, be sure to use an app with end-to-end encryption like Signal or WhatsApp. Both apps are available for both Android and iOS. For especially sensitive messages, George recommends using the disappearing message feature.

Demand better data privacy protections

“I’d just note that it’s not ok to put the onus of defending against this type surveillance on individuals. This isn’t just about period trackers or apps specifically related to reproductive health. All of our phones have apps that can track a lot of information, including our location, at all times,” George said.

“Our lawmakers have failed us by not passing laws to protect us from this surveillance ecosystem, and companies have profited immensely from this data. People should be able to travel around with their phones without having to worry about who is tracking their movements. While it can be good to take some steps to secure your data, let’s not forget that people should not be criminalized for seeking abortions and they should not be constantly surveilled for profit or punishment.”

Anna Beahm

Anna Beahm | abeahm@reckonmedia.com

I report on the intersection of religion and sexuality in America. Follow me on Twitter @_AnnaBeahm

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