Companies sharing clients' reproductive data to be probed by US House panel

The committee sent letters to five data brokers and five personal health apps asking the companies to provide documents related to data-sharing by July 21.

 US REPRESENTATIVE Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) gestures outside the Supreme Court as it overturns the Roe v. Wade abortion decision, in Washington on Friday. Elected officials such as AOC are claiming the Supreme Court is ‘illegitimate,’ says the writer.  (photo credit: EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/REUTERS)
US REPRESENTATIVE Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) gestures outside the Supreme Court as it overturns the Roe v. Wade abortion decision, in Washington on Friday. Elected officials such as AOC are claiming the Supreme Court is ‘illegitimate,’ says the writer.
(photo credit: EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/REUTERS)

A US congressional committee has asked data brokers and personal health apps to explain how they handle users' reproductive health data amid concerns states will use the information to track patients seeking abortion where it is illegal.

Democrats on the House of Representatives Oversight Committee said they were concerned that location data, search history and other information on mobile phones could create "digital bread crumbs" that reveal interest in an abortion.

"The collection of sensitive data could pose serious threats to those seeking reproductive care," the lawmakers wrote on Friday.

Democrats have scrambled to shore up abortion rights since the US Supreme Court last month eliminated the constitutional right to abortion. Several Republican-led states already have banned abortion and others are expected to do so soon.

The committee sent letters to five data brokers – SafeGraph, Digital Envoy, Placer.ai, Gravy Analytics and Babel Street – as well as five personal health apps – Flo Health Inc., Glow Inc., BioWink GmbH, GP International, and Digitalchemy Ventures.

 Mom on phone with baby  (credit: INGIMAGE) Mom on phone with baby (credit: INGIMAGE)

What did the letters say?

The letters asked the companies, all privately held, to provide documents related to data-sharing by July 21.

Placer.ai wrote in a statement that it does not sell data that can be traced back to individual users. Gravy Analytics declined to comment and the other companies did not respond to requests for comment.

Do apps share reproductive health data with third parties?

A June study by The Journal of Medical Internet Research found that 87% of the 23 most popular women's health apps shared user data with third parties, yet just over half requested consent from their users, according to the committee.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Friday intended to help safeguard women's access to abortion and contraception.