Silicon Valley is Grappling Amid Growing Tensions Over Abortion Rights
Tension grips the US Silicon Valley around abortion data tracking amid growing tensions over abortion rights
The very title of this article may surprise many. It is because abortion rights and the Silicon Valley are not issues that have mutual connections with much frequency. They are generally supposed to be too different to develop close linkage. But in a world governed by an increasing obsession with data, and especially the commercialization of data, even that connection is drawing much attention and discussion in the US. In a kind of wake-up call, Motherboard has published a report on how data brokers are selling location data of people who visit abortion clinics. No doubt, this revelation unleashes a host of ethical, cultural, and political issues and questions which will not go away any time soon in this data-centric world.
The report refers to one location data firm as the main broker and provides the alarming news that it is busy selling information related to visits to a specific category of clinics that provide abortions including Planned Parenthood facilities. The location data show where groups of people visiting the clinics came from, their period of stay, and their next destination. The fine act of data selling is being done by using apps on the ordinary phones of unsuspecting customers who fall victims to app developers tracking information and sending them to client companies for a hefty fee. There is no check on how, for what purpose, and by whom the data is being manipulated in various phases. All this puts the citizens’ rights under the carpet in this data-centric world.
While such data selling would cause widespread concern in every part of the world, especially in the US, for Silicon Valley, it is causing particular concerns because a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion reveals the possibility of the judiciary withdrawing the precedent federal protections to those seeking abortion and also banning abortion in several states of the country. The hardest-hit Americans will be those inhabiting ‘conservative’ states such as Texas where abortion faces an almost overwhelming ban. The location data will be useful for those who want to trace any act of border crossing from the ‘conservative’ to the ‘liberal’ states for abortion purposes.
Abortion has been an extremely contentious issue in different parts of the world. Many Christian groups, especially those belonging to the Roman Catholic stream, consider it not just an unwanted act but also a ‘sinful’ one. There is a concerted effort to persuade and prevent people from undergoing abortion and in a number of cases because of the resistance from pro-abortion groups the situations become very complicated, often resulting in skirmishes and violence. But not just that. There is a deep concern, rather an apprehension, on the part of the pro-abortion groups that such data selling will invariably strengthen the surveillance of states on citizens. And it will be so not just in terms of abortion-related issues but also in general terms. There is a strong consensus that data selling and the broader act of state vigilantism are totally unethical as they not only lead to gross violation of the privacy of citizens but also destroy the foundation of democracy. Obviously, many in the US boast of being the world’s ‘best democracy’, but such commercial use of citizen information, especially without any safeguards, has raised an alarm.
The tension is going to mount in the coming days in the US Silicon Valley because there is as of yet no signal as to how much data selling will be sopped by the involved parties. This may be the fate of an era in which data will become more important than people’s rights in the upcoming tech-driven world.