Given the shifting state of the law, people seeking an abortion, or any kind of reproductive healthcare that might end with the termination of a pregnancy, may need to pay close attention to their digital privacy and security. We’ve previously covered how those involved in the abortion access movement can keep themselves and their communities safe. We’ve also laid out a principled guide for platforms to respect user privacy and rights to bodily autonomy. This post is a guide specifically for anyone seeking an abortion and worried about their digital privacy. There is a lot of crossover with the tips outlined in the previously mentioned guides; many tips bear repeating.
We are not yet sure how companies may respond to law enforcement requests for any abortion related data, and you may not have much control over their choices. But you can do a lot to control who you are giving your information to, what kind of data they get, and how it might be connected to the rest of your digital life.
Keep This Data Separate from Your Daily Activities
If you are worried about legal pressure, the most important thing to remember is to keep these activities separate from less sensitive ones. This can be done many ways, but the underlying idea is to keep that information compartmentalized away from other aspects of your “regular” life. This makes it harder to trace back to you.
Choosing a separate browser with hardened privacy settings is an easy and free start. Browsers like Brave, Firefox, and DuckDuckGo on mobile are all easy-to-use options that come with hardened privacy settings out of the box. It’s a good idea to look into the “preferences” menu of whichever browser you choose, and raise the privacy settings even further. It’s also a good idea to turn off this browser’s features to remember browsing history and site data/cookies. Here’s what that looks like in Firefox’s “Privacy and Security” menu:
If you are calling clinics or healthcare providers, consider keeping a secondary phone number like Google Voice (which is free), Hushed, or Burner (both Hushed and Burner are paid apps, but have significantly better privacy policies than Google Voice). Having a separate email address, especially one that is made with privacy and security in mind, is also a good idea. Some email services you might consider are Tutanota and Protonmail.
One way to protect your privacy is to get a “burner phone” – meaning a phone that’s not connected to your normal cell phone account. But keeping a super secure burner phone may be hard for many people. If so, consider reviewing the privacy settings on your current cell phone to see what information is being collected about you, who is collecting it, and what they might do with it.
If you’re using a period tracker app already, carefully examine its privacy settings. If you can, consider switching to a more privacy-focused app. Euki, for example, promises not to store any user information.
Turn off ad identifiers on your phone. We’ve laid out a guide for doing so on iOS and Android here. This restricts individual apps’ abilities to track your behavior when you use them, and limits their sharing of that information with others.
While you’re at it, it’s a good idea to review the other permissions that apps have on your phone, especially location services. For apps that require location data for their core functionality (such as Google Maps), choose an option like “While Using” that only gives the app permission to view your location when it’s open (remember to fully close out of those apps when you are finished using them).
If you have a “Find My” feature turned on for your phone, like Apple’s function to see where your phone is from your other computers, you will want to consider turning that off before traveling to or from a location you don’t want someone else being able to see you visit.
If you’re traveling to or from a location (such as a clinic or a rally) where there is a likelihood law enforcement may stop you or seize your device, or if you’re often near someone who may look into your phone without permission, turning off biometric unlocking is a good idea. This means turning off any feature for unlocking your phone using your face ID or fingerprint. Instead you should opt for a passcode that is difficult to guess (like all passwords: make it long, unique, and random).
Since you are likely using your phone to text and call others that will share similar data privacy and security concerns as you, it’s a good idea to download Signal, an end-to-end-encrypted messaging app. For a more thorough walkthrough, check out this guide for Android and this for iOS.
Lock & Encrypt
Anticipating how data on your devices might be seized as evidence is a scary thought. You don’t need to know how encryption works, but checking to make sure it’s turned on for all your devices is vital. Android and iOS devices have full-disk encryption on by default (though it doesn’t hurt to check). Doing the same for your laptops and other computers is just as important. It’s likely that encryption is on by default for your operating system, but it’s worthwhile to check. Here is how to check for MacOS, and also for Windows. Linux users ought to check for guides for their choice of distribution and how to enable full disk encryption from there.
Delete & Turn Off
Deleting things from your phone or computer isn’t as easy as it sounds. For sensitive data, you want to make sure it’s done right.
When deleting images from your phone, make sure to remove them from “recently deleted” folders. Here is a guide on permanently deleting from iOS. Similar to iOS, Android’s Google Photos app requires you to delete photos from its “Bin” folder where it stores recently deleted images for a period of time.
For your computer, using “secure deletion” features on either Windows or MacOS is a good call, but are not as important as making sure full disk encryption is turned on (discussed in the above section)
If you’re especially worried that someone might learn about a specific location you are traveling to or, simply turning off your phone and leaving your laptop at home is the easiest and most foolproof solution. Only you can decide if the risk outweighs the benefit of keeping your phone on when traveling to or from a clinic or abortion rally. For more reading, here is our guide on safely attending a protest, which may be useful for you to make that decision for yourself.