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Location data from people who visited US abortion clinics is legally on sale for $160, report

Business Insider US
The outside of the Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services Center. Saul Loeb/Getty Images
The outside of the Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services Center. Saul Loeb/Getty Images
  • Vice paid a broker $160 for a dataset that contained location data from Planned Parenthood branches in the US.
  • This included location data from 600 Planned Parenthoods, some of which provided abortion services.
  • This poses a privacy risk to clinics and to people seeking abortions.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

US Companies that package and sell on people's phone data can legally sell on location data from abortion clinics, Vice reported.

Vice bought a dataset from a data brokering company called Safegraph. Data brokers are companies that collect people's personal data, assign it to specific profiles, then sell it on. 

Vice bought a dataset from Safegraph for $160, which included a week's worth of phone location data for 600 Planned Parenthoods in the US. Not every Planned Parenthood provides abortion services but Vice reported that it verified some of the locations included in the dataset do.

While there are already privacy issues with sensitive location data being sold on by data brokers, Vice's report is especially concerning in the light of a leaked Supreme Court draft which shows the court could be poised to strike down Roe v. Wade.

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion would likely become illegal in 23 states.

The data sold by data brokers like Safegraph is aggregated, meaning it doesn't single out individuals. However, it is possible to de-anonymise people from datasets provided by data brokers.

Cybersecurity researcher Zach Edwards told Vice that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, location data could be used to harrass people travelling across state lines to access abortions, as well as the clinics who provide them.

"This is how you dox someone travelling across state lines for abortions — how you dox clinics providing this service," he said.

Doxxing is a form of harassment that involves revealing someone's identity and personal information.

Planned Parenthood and Safegraph did not immediately respond when contacted by Insider outisde of usual US working hours.


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