Last week, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote a letter urging the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to address deceptive practices in the Virtual Private Network (VPN) industry. Eshoo and Wyden’s letter comes as people try to hide their digital footprints after Supreme Court decision to quash Roe v. 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 activities. With abortion becoming illegal or restricted in several states, more people are trying to hide their messages and search histories, as police can use this information to prosecute anyone who wants to undergo the procedure.
In their letter, Eshoo and Wyden ask the FTC to put a stop to VPN providers that engage in deceptive advertising or make false claims about the scope of their service’s privacy. The lawmakers cite research from Consumer Reports showing that 75 percent of the most popular VPNs “misrepresented their products” or made misleading claims that “might give abortion seekers a false sense of security.” Eshoo and Wyden also draw attention to reports accusing several VPN services of misuse of 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 more, these abusive and exploitative data practices are simply unacceptable,” the letter reads. “We urge the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take immediate action… to curb abuse and deceptive data practices at companies that provide VPN services to protect internet users seeking abortion.” Eshoo and Wyden are also asking the FTC to develop a brochure that will educate anyone who wants to have an abortion about online privacy, outlining the risks and benefits of using a VPN.
Earlier this month, the FTC reaffirmed it will 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 delete location data associated with abortion clinic visits.