Attorneys general in nine states and the District of Columbia this week are urging Apple to introduce new App Store requirements aimed at protecting sensitive health data related to reproductive medicine.
Officials are urging Cook to introduce new rules for app developers that require the deletion of non-essential data, including the location and search history of users “who seek, access, or assist in reproductive health care.”
In addition, officials asked Apple to require app makers to certify that they would only disclose reproductive health data in response to a “valid subpoena, search warrant or court order.” App makers should be required to provide consumers with “clear and conspicuous notices” if there is a possibility that such health data will be shared with third parties, officials said.
“Third-party apps, available on the App Store, collect consumers’ private reproductive health data, which can be used against consumers by law enforcement agencies, private entities or individuals,” the officials said.
The letter announces that Apple customers have made their concerns clear about the way mobile apps handle reproductive data Dobbs vs. Jackson, the Supreme Court case that abolished the constitutional right to abortion after nearly 50 years. And while Apple often touts that privacy is one of its “core values,” the company “hasn’t done enough on that particular front,” the letter said.
“Consumers cannot trust Apple’s privacy promises if applications on the App Store are not 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 contact Cook, and the Attorneys General for California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont and the United States Washington state.
Bloomberg and huff mail previously reported on the letter this week.
At the time of writing, the cancellation of the landmark Roe v. calf That decision either triggered or led to state legislation banning most abortions in 13 states. This includes nine states that do not make exceptions for victims of rape or incest. (Mississippi law includes an exception for rape, but not for incest.)
Republican lawmakers in eight other states have attempted to enact bans but are currently being blocked by courts while legal battles are fought out.
The criminalization of abortion has sparked new fears about digital surveillance practices by state and local law enforcement agencies, particularly in states like Texas, where people may be prosecuted for helping abortion seekers travel to other states where care is still legal.
There are also concerns in Texas that judges could order internet companies to release data in civil cases resulting from the state’s bounty system for abortions. The system empowers ordinary citizens to sue anyone involved in performing an abortion. Vigilante applicants must collect $10,000 in cash each.
Equally worrying is that law enforcement agencies may be avoiding the courts altogether and using a Fourth Amendment loophole to acquire location data. While the Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional for police to force access to location data without a warrant, the US Department of Justice and countless other agencies have ruled that buying it is legal instead.
State and local police agencies are already known to purchase software that uses mobile app data to track people’s movements. Such tools can be used to track activity near women’s clinics or to help prosecutors uncover evidence against people traveling abroad for a trial.
In their letter to Apple, the nine attorneys general also highlighted specific concerns related to period trackers, pregnancy and fertility apps, and wearable health and fitness devices. Referring to a current survey from the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation, officials found that many apps failed to meet minimum security standards and that some even “lacked basic privacy policies, let alone policies addressing the use of sensitive information.”
“We recognize Apple’s commitment to the privacy and security of its products, as evidenced by its use of encryption to protect users’ health data and by being transparent with law enforcement requests for user data,” the officials said. “But that alone isn’t enough when third-party apps on the App Store don’t respect and adhere to Apple’s privacy ethos.”