“As a young woman who uses a period-tracking app, I got a bunch of text messages from my friends about whether they should delete the apps, what they should be worried about in terms of their data,” Jacobs, who is 33, told me during an interview.
Without federal privacy standards in place to protect the personal information of users, Jacobs said she was struck by the fact that women are largely on their own when it comes to safeguarding sensitive health data that companies routinely collect.
Now, Jacobs is trying to shift more of that responsibility onto technology companies and app developers by unveiling the first bill of its kind, shared exclusively with The Technology 202, to limit how much sexual health data firms can collect, keep, utilize and disclose.
The My Body My Data Act would require firms to only collect and retain reproductive health information that is “strictly needed” to provide one of their services, unless they otherwise obtain explicit consent from a user. It would give users the right to demand that their information be deleted or for companies to disclose how they are using the data.
“This is a fundamental part of our reproductive rights,” Jacobs said. The legislation would give the Federal Trade Commission the power to enforce the new standards but also give consumers the ability to launch their own lawsuits against companies in violation and allow states to implement privacy laws that build on the protections in the bill.
With a slew of red states poised to criminalize or restrict abortion access if Roe is indeed overturned, Jacobs said greater protections are needed to ensure the personal information of women is not weaponized against them.
Since the opinion leaked, abortion rights and privacy groups have warned that online health services, period-tracking apps, browser histories and even location data could be used by law enforcement to track down and prosecute people seeking abortions.
“You could have a right-wing nonprofit organization buy all of this data from the various period-tracking apps” and “they could use that to create a mass ability to be able to tell who should be pregnant right now but is not based on their period information,” she said.
Jacobs argued the risk will be particularly severe in states that seek to duplicate provisions, like those in the Texas abortion law, that empower private citizens to report on violators. The legislation would extend protections to not just apps but other digital services, such as search engines.
While dozens of Democrats have already voiced concern about the privacy implications of overturning Roe, Jacobs said it remains an issue that often flies under the radar on Capitol Hill, where members are predominantly male and largely older.
“I talked to a male colleague of mine who didn’t even know that women would be tracking their periods on an app or anything like that,” she said.
Given broad Republican opposition to expanding abortion protections and an evenly split Senate, the new bill is unlikely to become federal law. But she argued there is momentum behind the effort that could inspire action at the state level.
“We think this can be a model for states as they are trying to figure out how they can best protect people’s right to abortion,” she said. The bill has received support from a number of reproductive health and privacy groups, including Planned Parenthood and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“The privacy of our reproductive health data is under growing attack,” said India McKinney, director of federal affairs at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “We thank Representative Jacobs for proposing strong new statutory safeguards for our private data.”
The introduction arrives as lawmakers on Capitol Hill continue to negotiate a potential comprehensive federal privacy bill, which has eluded Congress for years.
Jacobs cast her efforts as complementary. “I think in this moment, it is also important to recognize that there are some unique things that we need to do to protect personal reproductive health data that are complementary to the broader push,” she said.
Our top tabs
Senate Democrat says Congress ‘falling short’ in latest data privacy push
A prominent Democratic senator who has helped lead efforts to pass federal data privacy protections is speaking out against lawmakers' latest attempt to strike a deal on a bill, which he said is “falling short” in protecting consumers.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), a key negotiator in past privacy talks on Capitol Hill, urged the leaders of the House and Senate commerce panels in a letter Wednesday to “refuse to settle for a privacy framework that will only result in more policies to read, more cookies to consent to, and no real change for consumers.” While Schatz did not say what specific measure he was addressing, he called on lawmakers to advance a proposal that imposes a duty of care on companies over users' personal data, and if not, that they “absolutely should not preempt states from adopting consumer-first online privacy reforms.”
The remarks come amid reports that privacy talks have restarted on Capitol Hill after years of impasse and disagreement between Democrats and Republicans over whether a federal law should override state standards and allow consumers to bring their own lawsuits against violating companies. Schatz's comments mark the first major sign of public disagreement between prominent figures over a privacy framework in the latest round of talks. In response, Senate Commerce Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said in a statement, “Senator Schatz is right — any robust and comprehensive privacy law must protect consumers’ personal data with a clear requirement that companies are accountable for the use of that data and must act in consumers’ best interests.”
Spokespeople for Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) did not return requests for comment. A spokesperson for Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) declined to comment late Wednesday.
Sandberg is leaving Facebook
Meta chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg is one of the United States’ highest-profile female executives, and her departure comes at a time of tumult for Facebook, Elizabeth Dwoskin, Naomi Nix, Rachel Lerman and Cat Zakrzewski report. Sandberg told Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg that she would be stepping down over the weekend, she said in an interview with my colleagues.
“I am not entirely sure what the future will bring — I have learned no one ever is,” Sandberg wrote in a Facebook post. “But I know it will include focusing more on my foundation and philanthropic work, which is more important to me than ever given how critical this moment is for women.”
Javier Olivan, a friend and colleague of Zuckerberg, will take over as chief operating officer, though the role's purview will be more limited in scope than it was for Sandberg, Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post.
U.S. government could review Musk’s Twitter deal, national security officials say
The Chinese government has so much leverage over Musk that national security officials should be concerned, a dozen current and former officials told Joseph Menn and Reed Albergotti.
The Chinese government’s ability to “affect Musk’s fortunes could embolden them to ask that he identify opposition and American Twitter users, block content the government considers illegal, or at least allow its own propaganda to spread unchecked,” my colleagues write.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States has begun asking questions about the deal. The committee has “inquired with people involved in the merger deal about the foreign investors Musk has brought into his bid because of potential national security concerns,” my colleagues wrote yesterday.
Musk hasn't been accused of wrongdoing, and he's been vetted by the U.S. government because SpaceX is a NASA partner. Musk didn't answer emailed questions.
Rant and rave
Sheryl Sandberg's departure from Facebook was the subject of “lean in” jokes, questions about the announcement's timing and pondering about what led Sandberg to leave. HuffPost's Jennifer Bendery:
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal's Sam R. Hall:
Axios's Dan Primack:
Inside the industry
- The Congressional Internet Caucus and Congressional Internet Caucus Academy host an event on Europe's Digital Markets Act today at 11 a.m.
- The Atlantic Council hosts an event on the upcoming election for secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union today at noon.
- The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab hosts a two-day summit starting Monday.
- I'll be moderating a Gallup panel with John Samples, a member of the Facebook Oversight Board, and others Wednesday at 4 p.m.
- Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chair Rostin Behnam and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Cynthia M. Lummis (R-Wyo.) discuss the future of cryptocurrency regulation at a Washington Post Live event on Wednesday at 9 a.m.
- I'll be moderating a NationSwell and the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation panel on building trust in artificial intelligence on June 9 at 1:30 p.m.