California Attorney General Bonta Issues Consumer Alert With Tips To Protect Your Privacy When Seeking Abortion Or Reproductive Care

Abortion is safe and legal in California, but as anti-choice states move to criminalize abortion, people seeking reproductive care across state lines should take action to protect their lives private

September 17, 2022 – OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta released a consumer alert on Friday providing advice and guidance to help protect your privacy when accessing reproductive or abortion care. Although your right to seek an abortion remains fully protected in California, following the United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, many anti-choice states across the country have moved to restrict or criminalize abortion. Therefore, people seeking reproductive care across national borders should be wary of any sensitive data or information they share and protect their privacy. In today’s interconnected world, a lot of information can be collected from our online and offline activities. This can include a person’s location, web browsing, searches, and purchases. Some apps track location even when not in use, accessing geographic information from GPS, Wi-Fi, and cell towers. Companies may also make certain inferences about individuals based on the products they research or purchase, such as inferring that they are pregnant based on purchases of specific products. Today’s consumer alert provides advice on how best to protect your information and privacy when seeking reproductive care.

“While abortion remains legal and fully protected in California, in this post-Roe world, it is crucial that those seeking abortions across state lines take steps to protect their privacy,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Every day, you leave behind a digital trail when you access an application, a website or even when you search online. If you are traveling to California from a state where the right to choose is not protected, this information could be used to put you at risk. I urge anyone seeking to exercise their reproductive rights to take steps to ensure your reproductive privacy. As Attorney General, I will use the full authority of my office to protect your rights and make California a safe haven for anyone seeking comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion.

To best protect your reproductive privacy, consider following the steps below:

Be careful who you tell about your abortion care seeking

  • If you do not reside in a state that protects your right to an abortion, limit the discussion of your seeking abortion care. Only disclose your research to healthcare professionals and other people you trust.

Keep your internet searches and online activities private

  • Use a device you trust and where you can control the search methods. Don’t search on a device owned or operated by another person or entity, such as at work, a library, or an internet cafe.
  • Consider using a virtual private network (VPN). VPNs encrypt (hide) your internet traffic over unsecured networks to help protect your online identity. There are free or low-cost VPN options available online to use on your computer, mobile device, and home Wi-Fi network.
  • Use a web browser on your phone and computer that protects your privacy, including by not storing your browsing history. If you cannot avoid using a web browser that stores your browsing history, go to the web browser’s settings and use the clear or delete history feature to delete all cookies, cache, and navigation history. Then go to browser settings and select private or incognito browsing. Also, in the settings, select the option to block cookies.
  • Consider using a more private search engine, like DuckDuckGo or Qwant, and a more private internet browser like Firefox Focus or Brave. Do not use a search engine that offers an option to create an account associated with your personal information (such as your email address) and certainly do not log into such an account when searching.

Limit the tracking features of your mobile devices

  • If possible, do not bring any internet-enabled, cellular, or GPS-enabled device when going to or inside an abortion clinic. If you must bring such a device with you, follow the steps below to limit tracking by your device. Steps to avoid tracking include:
    1. Turn off location sharing on your phone and mobile device. Limit how apps can access location data by setting location permissions in your phone or device settings.
      • For Android users, go to SSettings > Personal > Location access. Next, disable “access to my location”.
      • For Apple users, go to Settings > Privacy > Rental services. Set the toggle to off.
      • Note: Because ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft connect a person to a location, you might want to be prepared to make alternate transportation arrangements.

    2. Disable Mobile Advertising ID (Mobile Advertising ID) on your phone and mobile device. A Mobile Ad ID is a unique identifier associated with your phone that is used to track your online activity.
      • For Android users, go to Settings > Privacy > Ads. Tap “Remove Advertising ID”, then tap again on the next page.
      • For Apple users, go to Settings > Privacy > Apple Advertising. Next, set the “Custom ads” button to the “off” position. Also go to Settings > Privacy > Tracking. Next, set the “Allow apps to ask to follow” toggle to the “off” position.

    3. Since social media apps can automatically leave you logged in, even when you are not actively using the app, log out and do not use social media on days when you go to or visit a clinic.
    4. Turn off Bluetooth on your phone and mobile device when not in use, and use it in “hidden” mode rather than “discovered” mode.
    5. Be careful when connecting to public WiFi and adjust your device settings so that it does not connect automatically. Consider turning off Wi-Fi to avoid inadvertently putting your sensitive information stored on your device and in online accounts at risk.
    6. Disconnect activity trackers, such as smartwatches, from location services, or don’t wear them on days you go to or visit a clinic.
    7. Avoid taking photos with your phone’s camera on days when you go to or visit a clinic. Even if location tracking is disabled on photos, photo content can still reveal your location.

Keep emails private

  • Do not use an email address associated with your work or school.
  • Use an email service that protects your privacy by using end-to-end encryption. With end-to-end encryption, only the sender and receiver can read the communication. While most popular free email services offer some encryption, end-to-end encryption is not the default and a user must take steps to enable it.
  • Consider creating a new email address that is not linked to your regular email account for emails related to abortion services. Enable the disappear messages feature or use a disposable email (a temporary email address that self-destructs after a single use or a set period of time).

Keep your text, voice and social media messages private

  • For messaging, only use third-party apps that use end-to-end encryption, instead of your phone’s default messaging service.
  • Check the messaging app’s privacy policy to make sure it doesn’t track, collect, or sell your information.
  • Follow the instructions in the messaging app or on social media messaging to enable the disappearing messages feature.
  • Delete messages once you no longer need them.

Keep payment transactions private

  • If you don’t live in a state that protects your right to an abortion, pay for abortion care in cash if possible. If cash payment is not possible, use cash to buy a prepaid card, instead of using a credit or debit card. Do not provide contact information when purchasing the prepaid card.

A copy of the consumer alert and additional resources are available here.
Source: CA. DOJ

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