Our data is a curse, with or without caviar

The almost limitless collection of our personal information has always led to this moment.

In the days after the Supreme Court canceled Rowe vs. Wadeabolishing the constitutional right to abortion, many materials were published and warnings from privacy advocates on how digital breadcrumbs could expose women seeking abortions to potential legal hazards.

Whatever your views on abortion, it’s time to reflect on what we’ve given up in the hungry maw of America’s runaway data-gathering economy.

In modern American life, it is almost impossible to be truly anonymous. There is so much digital information about who we are, where we go, what we buy and what interests us that we cannot control it all. This data is mainly used to better market shoes or donutsbut rarely stops there.

And now we see what happens when the digital invasion of the 21st century is confronted by people who are worried that all this information could be used against them in ways they never imagined.

I don’t want to make people needlessly afraid. My colleagues reported that about half of states expected to allow bans or other restrictions about abortion, but even in those states, law enforcement was focused on medical professionals rather than ordinary people. My colleagues also informed that there are no abortion bans that try to prosecute women who cross state lines to have an abortion, although states may try to do so in the future.

But now that access to abortion is no longer considered a fundamental right, it is staggering to imagine the breadth and depth of information we are throwing into the void.

Credit cards and security cameras spy on us. Sure, Google knows what we’ve been looking for and where we’ve been, but so do our mobile carriers and home internet companies, as well as many apps on our phones and intermediary networks that we’ve never dealt with directly. When we use apps to check the weather forecast or make sure our shelves are aligned, information can find his way to a military contractor or data broker for hire.

We can take some steps to minimize the amount of data we emit, but it’s nearly impossible to eliminate it. Several federal laws govern the collection and sale of all this information about us, although Congress discussion the latest of many attempts to enact a broad national digital privacy law.

We share more than just digital information. We talk to friends, family members and strangers. In some cases, when the authorities seek accusations against women when inducing an abortion, relatives or health care workers can report to law enforcement. (Here is a useful summary from Consumer Reports about when health data privacy laws protect us and when they don’t.)

Some of you reading this newsletter may be thinking that if abortion is a crime, then it is fair game to use digital data about people who want abortions in criminal prosecutions. A few years ago, I was a juror in the trial of a man who was accused of serially harassing his ex-girlfriend, and I felt both grateful and dissatisfied that there was so much digital evidence of his crimes, including his call logs, emails, Internet messages, and other information extracted from his smartphone. (We found this man guilty of most of the charges against him.)

Authorities may use this information in ways we agree with. But the sheer volume of information in so many hands with so few legal restrictions creates opportunities for misuse.

My colleagues have shown that smartphone data can follow the president of the usa. Stalkers deceived mobile operators. transferring people’s personal information. Churches have obtained information about people in a crisis situation sell them. Some US schools bought equipment hack children’s phones and download data. Automatic license plate scanners have made it difficult to drive anywhere without hitting the database which law enforcement can access without a warrant.

Since Rowe’s ouster, most major US tech companies not shared publicly how they can deal with potential law enforcement demands in future abortion-related criminal cases. Companies usually cooperate with legal inquiries like warrants or subpoenas from US authorities, although they sometimes resist and try to negotiate how much information they pass on.

In a situation where one company refuses to cooperate, chances are that similar digital information may be available from another company that agrees. (Some consideration has been given to the possibility period tracking apps to tell the authorities, but there are more direct sources of such information.)

And companies built to collect as much information as possible will have a hard time becoming data minifiers, even if they want to.

Google, Facebook and Verizon are not going to defend the right to abortion when the Supreme Court says there is no such right. They and millions of other companies with a boundless appetite for our information have created an environment where privacy doesn’t really exist.

Related to my colleagues: Payment data can be proof of an abortion.


  • Don’t worry about the crypto brothers: The Cryptocurrency Market Is Collapsing, But My Colleague David Jaffe-Bellani informed that the pain of loss is far from uniform. A small number of industry executives remained relatively unscathed, while some hobbyists lost most of their savings.

  • Memories of human labor associated with the creation of AI: New layoffs Tesla had employees who tagged data for driver assistance software. Worth reading is my colleague Cade Metz’s 2019 article on all the people needed to train computersincluding those who select images of stop signs and pedestrians from vehicle sensors so that the software can more easily determine what it “sees”.

  • Why would anyone want flash drives with so much personal information? A technician with access to data on the entire population of a Japanese city left his job with flash drives containing confidential information about some 460,000 people. He lost tiny storage devices during a night of drinking, said my colleagues Makiko Inoue and Tiffany May. (He found them later.)

There is nothing more charming than a lemur with its face buried in a flower.


Waiting for your reply. Tell us what you think of this newsletter and what else you would like us to cover. You can contact us at ontech@nytimes.com.

If you have not yet received this newsletter in your mailbox, Please register here. You can also read past On Tech speakers.