Opinion | Your phone apps may know you’re pregnant before you do

I gave up, and have been programming since I was a teenager, have a degree in computer programming, have worked in the software industry, and have been reading and writing about privacy and technology my entire adult life. My impression is that friends with similar professional profiles have also given up.

Using disposable phones, which you use and throw away, sounds great but is difficult in practice. Matt Blaze, a leading digital security and encryption expert, said trying to maintain a burner phone required “using pretty much everything I know about communications and security systems,” and he still wasn’t sure he had completely evaded surveillance and security. ID.

How about you leave your phone behind? Let me tell you, good luck.

Even if you don’t carry a digital device and only use cash, commercially available biometric databases can carry out facial recognition on a large scale. Clearview AI says it has more than 10 billion images of people taken from social media and news articles that it sells to law enforcement and private entities. Given the ubiquity of cameras, it will soon be difficult to walk anywhere without being algorithmically recognized. Even a mask is not a barrier. Algorithms can also recognize people based on other attributes. In China, police have employed “gait recognition,” using artificial intelligence to identify people by the way they walk and other body features besides the face.

The protections you think you have may not be as extensive as you think. The confidentiality that the federal health privacy law provides for discussions with a doctor does not always apply to prescriptions. In 2020, Consumer Reports revealed that GoodRX, a popular drug coupon and discount service, was selling information about what drugs people were searching for or buying on Facebook, Google, and other data marketing companies. GoodRX said it would stop, but there is no law that prohibits them, or any pharmacy, from doing this.

That data becomes an even more powerful form of surveillance when combined with other data. A woman who eats sushi regularly and suddenly stops taking Pepto-Bismol or starts taking vitamin B6 can easily be identified as someone following pregnancy guidelines. If that woman does not give birth, she may be questioned by the police, who may think that she had an abortion. (Already, in some places, women seeking medical help after a miscarriage have reported being questioned in this regard.)

I haven’t even gotten to all the data collected on billions of people by giant tech platforms like Facebook and Google. “Well, don’t use them,” you might say. Again, good luck.

In 2019, when Kashmir Hill, now a reporter for The New York Times, tried to kick Google out of her online life, she found it everywhere. Apps like Lyft and Uber, which relied on Google maps, and Spotify, which relied on Google Cloud, would not work. The Times loaded very slowly (trying to load Google Analytics, Google Pay, Google News, Google Ads, and Doubleclick, then waiting for them to fail before continuing). By the end of the week, their devices had tried to communicate with Google’s servers more than 100,000 times. Hill also tested this for five other big tech companies and found them equally difficult to avoid.

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