Post Roe v Wade overturn, tech and finance companies putting users at risk from lack of corporate due diligence
Amid the rollback of reproductive rights in the United States, a new report warns companies are unaware of how the user data they collect and store could lead to the criminalization of those seeking, providing or facilitating abortions. Since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, data collected by technology and financial firms could be used in investigations and court cases to enforce anti-abortion laws, posing a clear and significant risk to peoples’ right to privacy, as well as other fundamental rights and freedoms.
In a new report (Damaging Data: Corporate due diligence and reproductive rights) published on 6 December 2022, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre analyzed technology and finance companies on the steps they are taking to mitigate these risks. The report reveals a concerning lack of engagement and paints a bleak picture of the sector’s role in the possible infringement of users’ reproductive rights. Surveyed companies did not appear to be aware of the full range of human rights risks associated with the data they collect, or the steps necessary to mitigate those risks.
Key takeaways from the report included:
- Out of the 63 technology and finance companies surveyed, just 14 responded.
- Only six surveyed companies acknowledged the changed landscape for reproductive rights and described actions taken.
- No company described their risk assessment approach.
These companies were chosen because they collect user or payment data which can be linked to users’ access to reproductive healthcare. Their responses, or lack thereof, revealed a disturbing level of unawareness of how their collection of data could contribute to violating reproductive rights. Many companies also had apparent gaps in company policies and practices regarding third-party access to data, including government requests to access information.
Meagan Barrera, North America Researcher and Representative, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said: “From period tracking apps to messaging services and payment platforms, tech and finance companies collect, store and use a huge amount of data on their users’ lives. The rollback of reproductive rights in the USA means this data can be—and has already been—used as evidence to punish people who seek abortions, healthcare professionals who provide them, and friends and family members who help people access abortions.
“Our research shows few companies are currently engaging with the human rights risks posed by their approach to data collection. Companies collecting sensitive user data must take immediate steps to ensure users' rights to privacy and freedom of expression are protected, and address how their approach to data may impact other rights, including reproductive rights and access to healthcare.
“There are practical steps companies can take: some companies are already strengthening encryption, introducing anonymous mode, and limiting data collection and third-party access to data. Along with robust human rights due diligence processes to identify, mitigate and remedy risks, these actions will make a big difference for protection of users’ reproductive rights.”
Note to editors:
- The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts (positive and negative) of more than 10,000 companies across nearly 200 countries. We seek responses from companies when concerns are raised by civil society.
- The report ‘Damaging Data: Corporate due diligence and reproductive rights’ will be live here from 6 December 2022. Embargoed advance copies are available for journalists.
Media contact: Pippa Woolnough, Head of Communications ([email protected] / +44 (0)20 4526 0981)