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Tech consumers seek more data privacy as states move to ban abortion

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Yahoo Finance’s Dan Howley joins the Live show to discuss how tech companies store consumers' reproductive data in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

Video Transcript

- Well, the Supreme Court decision to overturn federal rights to abortion is raising concerns among women about the access authorities could have to data stored on reproductive health apps. We've got Yahoo Finance's tech reporter Dan Howley with us here at the desk to talk about the tech industry essentially caught in the middle here. We've talked a lot about the data that's collected on, for example, these period tracking apps. But to what extent are these companies really compelled to hand over the data? Regardless of what they believe, legally what's the responsibility?

DAN HOWLEY: Yeah. I mean, look, what it comes down to is if there's a warrant-- sorry, a subpoena, something along those lines, some kind of legal document coming from law enforcement authorities, they can push back. But, ultimately, they will likely have to turn something over. A lot of the discussion, obviously, has been about period tracking apps, about ovulation tracking apps, things like that. It's not just those. Those are the obvious ones. The other thing you have to look at is every other app out there. Anything that tracks your GPS location. Well, they can find it if you've gone to a clinic.

- A Google search.

DAN HOWLEY: A Google search. Posting on social media. Messages that you send that are unencrypted. Things along those lines. So it's essentially every app you have has the ability to incriminate you if you live in a state where abortion becomes illegal and if they take that step of going after women who seek to have the procedure done.

Now, the other issue is what happens if you're a woman, say, in Texas and you go to New York, where abortions are still legal and protected? Well, if you're a resident of Texas, does that mean that Texas can then go after you even though you were in New York but you did your research for it in Texas? And they can get that kind of information from you. So these are the tricky things that women are going to have to deal with.

Tech companies, meanwhile, have to go and ensure that data isn't going to be collected or provide ways in which it can't be collected. Now, for something like a Facebook or Google, that's difficult because that data is not encrypted. Look, you may not think that these apps are able to determine that you've been researching abortions or things like that, but we already think that our phones listen to us secretly because of how accurate these apps are at predicting what we're interested in or what we've been looking for.

- Well, and what's interesting is the lawmakers in these conservative states have been a little reluctant to say how aggressive they're going to be in seeking out this data. But I know in the past we've talked about what happens, for example, if you delete your app. Where does that data go? So there's a lot of women who are looking at this saying, well, should I be deleting all my apps? What about my search history? I mean, what's the advice? What should they be looking at if they're concerned about getting tracked in some way?

DAN HOWLEY: So to your point about the lawmakers saying-- or being reluctant to say they would go after women, some have said that they wouldn't. Others, like the Texas law for instance, that would allow someone who aids someone seeking abortion to be sued civilly. I think it's $10,000 they can be sued. So that's an issue that, frankly, the experts I spoke to said, we don't know if it's going to come down to them actually going after women.

As far as your data goes, deleting an app doesn't delete data. The data is still in the hands of these companies. You've given it over as soon as you downloaded that app and started uploading your address, your photos, things like that. What you have to do is actually get that data deleted. So most apps will allow you to do so. Do that. And then delete the app. The idea is to ensure that your data is gone and the app is gone. Now, you can look into the terms of services for some of these companies. I'm actually going to be working on a piece explaining how to do that and pull your data back.

But I think this just raises these questions of, how much data is too much data? And one expert I spoke to from Carnegie Mellon and said, look, we've been collecting data with reckless abandon. And now that's finally catching up with us in ways we never expected. So for women out there, it becomes incredibly difficult in states where this is going to be a problem.

- Well, and you've got a story up on Yahoo Finance that points to instances where data has been handed over, not necessarily on abortion. But that kind of points to just how often this happens. And this is a whole new dimension that's added into that mix. Dan Howley, thanks so much for that.