Gathering customer data from devices, web traffic, and apps has long been central to operational strategies at startups and enterprises alike. Can and should those data strategies continue after the dismantling of Roe v. Wade?

In the weeks since the US Supreme Court upended nearly 50 years of legal precedent, questions continue to be asked about the collection of personal data that might implicate users in states that institute laws to ban abortions. Initial concerns pointed to apps used to track menstrual cycles, but what about beacons and other technology that can track where a user travels? Would a company have to turn such data over to local authorities?

“This isn’t just about period tracking,” says David Ruiz, senior threat content writer with Malwarebytes. “This is about location data, too. This is about if you visit a Planned Parenthood. Should that data be available to someone else?”

Waking Up from Data Complacency

He says the world experienced a decade where companies saw collecting as much data as possible as the right and smart thing to do. “It could help them target users; it could help them tell users activities about themselves,” Ruiz says. Now companies need to ask what they need the data for, he says, with laws such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union setting the tone for only collecting necessary data for services being offered.

The overturning of Roe v. Wade may be another motivation to follow such guidance, Ruiz says. “We're already seeing quite a few businesses, particularly period tracking apps, making a sudden pivot.” Some apps are releasing "anonymous" modes; therefore, if law enforcement requests information, that data will be unmeaningful for identification. Some companies are looking to end-to-end encryption of user data, he says, to keep it out of the hands of law enforcement.

Ruiz says most changes that are to come to the market will likely affect companies that work with highly personal data. He cites public responses to crises such as the data collection practices of Cambridge Analytica prompting some users to give up Facebook. Changes in privacy policies at WhatsApp, Ruiz says, also led to some users moving to alternate apps.

Data Privacy Redux

The Supreme Court decision pushed data privacy discussions to the forefront once more, says Christine Frohlich, head of data governance at Verisk Marketing Solutions. “Those of us who have been working in the data industry have been thinking about this for a long time,” she says. “The regulations we’re seeing in California, and now what we’re seeing in Colorado, Connecticut, Virginia, and Utah have made this a real hot topic within our industry.”

Companies have a fundamental responsibility, Frohlich says, to protect consumer privacy to the best of their ability. Customers may enjoy personalized experiences such as a digital interaction with a brand or having products marketed to them in a personal way, but she says they are also concerned about how their data is used.

Federal legislation on data privacy might move forward faster in response to the Supreme Court decision, Frohlich says.

The “right to be forgotten,” or a deletion requirement is flowing through state legislation and what is being proposed potentially on a federal perspective, she says. “That is an aspect of consumer privacy that data companies are going to deal with. Regardless of what’s happening from the Supreme Court decision, we know we have to manage to the ‘right to be forgotten.’”


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