The recent abolition of the right to an abortion in the United States has raised questions about compliance for employers across the nation. Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Facebook are central in this struggle between new laws and worker demands not just because of their size and social prominence but also because of the data they collect.
The data that a company like Facebook collects on its users can significantly impact state police investigations into both providers and those who get abortions.
“Digital evidence has just revolutionized how criminal investigations are conducted in this country,” said Catherine Crump, a law professor and director of the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic at UC-Berkeley’s law school. “We live our lives online, we leave digital breadcrumbs of our prior activities, and of course those are going to be caught up in abortion investigations.”
The question facing CEO Mark Zuckerberg? Will Facebook share data to allow police to track down those who have had an illegal abortion?
“Protecting people’s privacy is always important, I get that this is extra salient right now [with] the Supreme Court decision and that specifically bearing on privacy,” Zuckerberg said according to a recording obtained by CyberScoop.
End-to-end encryption, a feature which can be turned on for group chats and calls in Facebook Messenger, is the primary tool Facebook uses to deny compliance and promote its users’ privacy. Facebook confirmed that they expect to make end-to-end encryption the default across its products sometime in 2023.
“Where there have been some safety advocates who have said, ‘Hey, if you encrypt messages, you’re making it harder to see some bad behavior?’ Well, you know, I think in this case having your messages encrypted is actually one of the ways that you keep people safe from bad behavior or, or over-broad requests for information or things like that.”
Yet these initial statements do not amount to a promise. Facebook declined to elaborate on how its encryption expansion plans would apply to concerns about abortion-related data collected by its advertising business. With the situation as uncertain as it is, and with the potential to lose out on large markets, Facebook’s next moves are still up in the air.