A group of Democratic senators urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Apple and Google over the collection of mobile phone user information.
In a letter to Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan, the lawmakers accused the tech giants of engaging in unfair and deceptive practices by enabling the collection and sale of hundreds of millions of personal data of mobile phone users.
They added that companies facilitated these malicious practices by creating ad-specific tracking identifiers in mobile operating systems.
In their letter, the senators specifically mentioned how individuals seeking abortions might be particularly vulnerable if their data, particularly their location, were collected and shared.
They wrote the letter shortly before the Supreme Court formally overturned Roe v. Wade, making abortion immediately illegal in states that had an unenforceable law but might achieve enforceability in the event of a major change in circumstances.
They explained that data brokers sell location information to people who visit abortion providers. Senators also emphasized how this information could now be used by private citizens to target individuals seeking abortions.
Apple and Android device identifiers make it easier to collect and sell personal data
Android and iOS are built with tracking identifiers used for advertising purposes. Whereas identifiers are supposed to be anonymous. But the senators said data brokers sell databases linked to consumer names, email addresses and phone numbers.
Apple rolled out an iOS update last year to implement stricter privacy measures for app tracking, requiring apps to request permission before collecting a device’s unique identifier for the benefit of advertisers.
They said Google still enables this tracking ID by default. The company has previously introduced features to make it difficult to track users through apps. It recently pledged to improve privacy protections across Android in order to offer new, more private ad solutions.
The company said: “Goog does not sell user data.” The store strictly prohibits the sale of user data by developers. Any claims that the advertising ID was created to facilitate the sale of data are bogus.
Despite the companies’ solutions, lawmakers said they did damage. They called on the Federal Trade Commission to consider the role Apple and Google have played in turning online advertising into an extensive monitoring system that incentivizes and facilitates the unfettered collection and sale of Americans’ personal data.
Lawmakers also urged Google last month to stop collecting and storing location data. They said it could be used against people who have had or sought abortions.
Another group of lawmakers recently asked the company to crack down on manipulative search results. These findings lead people seeking abortions to anti-abortion clinics instead.