Warren, Markey press student surveillance platforms on reproductive health data

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Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) sent letters to four student surveillance programs Thursday asking if they flag search terms related to reproductive health, over concerns the data could be used to punish the students for seeking information about abortion access. 

The senators asked the companies if their software flags content related to phrases such as “pregnant,” “abortion,” and “birth control,” and how they are ensuring that their software is not used to criminalize or punish students. 

“It would be deeply disturbing if your software flags words or activity that suggest students are searching for contraception, abortion, or other related services, and if school administrators, parents, and even law enforcement were potentially informed of this activity,” they wrote.

The letters were sent to Bark Technologies, Gaggle.net, GoGuardian and Securly Inc. 

A spokesperson for Gaggle.net said the company does not track for any reproductive health terms in its algorithm, “nor will we ever do so.” The company is also writing a response to the senators’ letter. 

Spokespeople for the other companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

The senators asked the companies to respond by Aug. 3. 

The letter adds to the growing scrutiny from Democrats over how companies retain and use sensitive data about reproductive health. The concern was amplified after the Supreme Court’s decision last month to strike down Roe v. Wade, triggering abortion bans and severe restrictions in states across the country. 

Several House progressives on Wednesday urged delivery companies FedEx, UPS and DHL to protect the private data of customers amid concerns that lawmakers in anti-abortion states will seek to access information about women who purchase abortion medication.

“Congress has a responsibility to do everything we can to safeguard people’s privacy and protect access to abortion care,” Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) said in a statement.

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