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FTC fires a shot across the bow of anyone wanting to sell personal reproductive data

FTC fires a shot across the bow of anyone wanting to sell personal reproductive data

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission says it will go after any business that illegally monitor or handle information related to a woman’s reproductive status.

Data privacy violations involving apps are not new, and the government is putting the marketplace on notice in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that women have no right to an abortion.

As a reminder, the agency says that in 2019 it went after Flo Health, maker of a fertility-tracking app, for allegedly selling to third parties the health data of millions of women who used the app.

Flo had specifically assured users that their personal data would not be sold or misused, according to the FTC. The company put no restrictions on how buyers of the information could use it.

The regulator also warns more generally of sensitive data collection by smartphones, connected cars, and fitness wearables. Biometrics are explicitly included.

For good measure, the FTC pointed out that it is not the only agency that can prosecute data privacy violations. The Massachusetts attorney general’s office in 2017 reached a settlement with a marketing company that gathered location data and then sent related ads to the people identified.

That case involved Copley Advertising and its principal for identifying people who crossed a geo-fence around a medical office offering abortions. Those caught by location software were sent information about abortion alternatives.

The FTC will prosecute cases involving misused health data with the same vigor it goes after violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection, the Health Breach Notification and the Safeguards rules.

That goes for deceptive claims about anonymity and anonymization, the agency says.

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