‘Gap’ in App Store rules endangers reproductive data, top law enforcement chiefs say

View of the Apple Store on Rosenstrasse in Munich.

View of the Apple Store on Rosenstrasse in Munich.
photo: Frank Hoermann/Sven Simon (ap)

Attorneys general in nine states and the District of Columbia are urging Apple this week to introduce new App Store requirements designed to safeguard sensitive health data related to reproductive care.

In a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, the dozen law enforcement chiefs accused the company of leaving a “gap” in its data protection policies that, they said, “threaten the privacy and security of consumers of the App Store and goes directly against the public opinion of Apple expressed commitment to protect user data.

Officials are asking Cook to roll out new rules on app developers that require the deletion of non-essential data, including the location and search histories of users “who seek, access, or help provide reproductive health care.”

Additionally, officials urged Apple to ask app makers to certify that they would disclose reproductive health data only in response to a “valid subpoena, search warrant or court order.” App makers should be required, officials said, to provide “clear and conspicuous warnings” to consumers whenever there is a possibility that such health data would be disclosed to third parties.

“Third-party apps available on the App Store collect private data about consumers’ reproductive health, which can be used as a weapon against consumers by law enforcement, private entities or individuals,” the officials said.

The letter proclaims that Apple customers have made clear their concerns about how mobile apps handle reproductive data in the wake of Dobbs versus Jackson, the sentence of the Supreme Court which eliminated the constitutional right to abortion after almost 50 years. And while Apple often claims privacy is among its “core values,” the company “hasn’t done enough” in this particular regard, the letter says.

“Consumers can’t trust Apple’s privacy promises if apps on the App Store aren’t required to take active steps to protect this sensitive health data,” the officials added.

The letter is signed by New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin, who led the effort to approach Cook, as well as the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont and Washington State .

Bloomberg And huffpost previously reported in this week’s letter.

At the time of writing, the landmark repeal Roe versus Wade decision triggered or led to state laws banning most abortions in 13 states. This includes nine states where there are no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. (Mississippi law includes an exception for rape, but not incest.)

Republican lawmakers in eight other states have attempted to pass the bans, but are currently being blocked by the courts as legal battles unfold.

The criminalization of abortion has sparked new concerns about state and local law enforcement digital surveillance practices, particularly in states like Texas, where people face potential prosecutions for helping abortion seekers travel to other states where assistance is still legal.

There are also concerns in Texas that judges could order Internet companies to turn over data in civil cases stemming from the state’s abortion bounty system. The system effectively empowers ordinary citizens to sue anyone involved in performing an abortion. Vigilant Claimants will collect cash payments of $10,000 in each case won.

Equally concerning is that law enforcement agencies are bypassing the courts altogether and using a Fourth Amendment loophole to buy location data. While the Supreme Court has found it unconstitutional for police to enforce access to location data without a warrant, the US Department of Justice and countless other agencies have ruled that the purchase is legal.

State and local law enforcement agencies they are already known to buy software that uses data from mobile apps to track people’s movements. Such tools have the potential to be used to track activity at women’s health clinics or to help prosecutors surface evidence against anyone traveling out of state for a procedure.

In their letter to Apple, the nine attorneys general also highlighted specific concerns about period trackers, pregnancy and fertility apps, and health and fitness wearables. Quote A recent survey from the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation, officials noted that many apps didn’t meet minimum security standards, and that some even lacked “basic privacy policies, not to mention policies that address the use of sensitive information.”

“We recognize Apple’s commitment to privacy and security across all of its products, as evidenced by its use of encryption to protect user health data and its transparency in law enforcement requests for user data ‘, officials said. “But that alone isn’t enough if third-party apps on the App Store don’t respect and don’t adhere to Apple’s privacy ethos.”

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