Last week, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote a letter urging the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to crack down on deceptive practices in the virtual private network (VPN) industry. Eshoo and Wyden’s letter comes as people seek to hide their digital footprint following Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
A VPN allows a user to establish an encrypted connection between their device and a private server, making it more difficult for third parties to access their online activity. With abortion becomes illegal or restricted in several statesmore and more people are trying to hide their messages and search history, because the police can use this information to prosecute someone who requests the procedure.
In their letter, Eshoo and Wyden call on the FTC to crack down on VPN providers that engage in misleading advertisements or make false claims about the privacy scope of their service. Lawmakers cite Consumer Reports research which indicate that 75% of the most popular VPNs “misrepresented their products” or made misleading claims that could give “abortion seekers a false sense of security.” Eshoo and Wyden too draw attention to reports accusing various VPN services of misusing user data, as well as “a lack of practical tools or independent research to verify VPN providers’ security claims.”
“With abortion illegal or soon to be illegal in 13 states and severely restricted in many others, these abusive and data-exploiting practices are simply unacceptable,” the letter states. “We urge the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take immediate action…to limit abusive and deceptive data practices at companies providing VPN services to protect Internet users seeking abortions.” Eshoo and Wyden are also asking the FTC to develop a brochure that educates anyone seeking an abortion about online privacy, as well as the risks and benefits of using a VPN.
Earlier this month, the FTC reaffirmed it would take action against companies that illegally share health, location and other sensitive data, while President Joe Biden signed an executive order to protect patient privacy. Other entities have also taken action in light of the Supreme Court ruling, with Google promising to automatically remove location data associated with visits to abortion clinics.