In a letter sent last week, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA) urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to address misleading business practices in the Virtual Private Network (VPN) sector. Following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, many people are attempting to minimize their online presence. This is why Eshoo and Wyden’s letter is timely.
A VPN makes it more difficult for other parties to access a user’s online behavior by enabling the user to create an encrypted connection between their device and a private server. More people are attempting to hide their communications and search histories as a result of abortion becoming illegal or limited in numerous places. Police can use this information to prosecute someone seeking the procedure.
Eshoo and Wyden encourage the FTC to crack down on VPN companies who use misleading advertising or make exaggerated claims about the level of anonymity offered by their services in their letter. According to Consumer Reports investigation, 75% of the most well-known VPNs “misrepresented their products” or made deceptive statements that would lull “abortion-seekers into a false sense of security,” according to the senators. Various VPN services have been accused of abusing user data, according to publications cited by Eshoo and Wyden. They also note the “lack of practical methods or independent research to examine VPN companies’ security claims.”
In the letter, it is said that “these abusive and exploitative data practices are just unacceptable” due to the fact that “abortion is either banned or soon to be prohibited in 13 states and highly limited in many more.” “We encourage the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to act immediately… to stop abusive and misleading data practices in businesses providing VPN services to protect online abortionists.” Eshoo and Wyden also request that the FTC create a booklet outlining the advantages and disadvantages of using a VPN and educating anybody seeking an abortion about internet privacy.
The FTC repeated earlier this month that it will pursue legal action against businesses that improperly reveal private information about customers’ health, whereabouts, and other factors, and President Joe Biden issued an executive order to safeguard patient privacy. In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, other organizations have also taken action. Google has pledged to automatically remove location data related to trips to abortion facilities.