By Levi Sumagaysay
In what they believe to be the first proposal on the issue, shareholder advocates have asked one of the world’s largest data brokers to study and release a report on how it can protect information that could be used in abortion-related prosecutions.
Open MIC (Media and Information Companies Initiative), a nonprofit investor advocacy group that focuses on accountability at technology and other companies, submitted the proposal to the Interpublic Group of Cos. (IPG) about its subsidiary, Acxiom, for consideration at the company’s annual general meeting this summer. Acxiom is one of the largest companies that collects and sells customer information for marketing purposes.
“Following revocation of the constitutional right to an abortion in June 2022, policymakers are concerned about the use of personal digital data for enforcement of state laws that ban or limit abortion access,” the resolution reads, citing legislation introduced in Congress to boost privacy protection and ban data brokers from selling consumers’ health information.
The information Acxiom collects that could potentially be accessed by law enforcement includes geolocation data, online activity, internet history, commercial transaction history and inferential data, according to Open MIC’s proposal, which was shared with MarketWatch. IPG has not yet released its proxy.
“A big part of our concern really comes down to transparency,” Dana Floberg, Open MIC’s advocacy director, told MarketWatch on Thursday. It’s unclear exactly what data Acxiom collects, Floberg added, as well as “what kinds of measures they may or may not be taking to ensure they keep that data safe, and what they turn over to law enforcement.”
Open MIC is specifically asking for IPG’s board to consider input from reproductive-rights and civil-liberties organizations, and “issue a public report assessing the feasibility of reducing the risks of abortion-related law enforcement information requests and purchases by expanding consumer privacy protections and controls over sensitive personal data.”
In the months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, two dozen states have banned abortion or are considering doing so, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health think tank that supports abortion rights. Examples of online information being used in abortion investigations include Nebraska police last year reportedly using Facebook (META) messages of a mother who allegedly helped her teenage daughter get an abortion.
Big Tech companies have also been pressured to address concerns around data they collect that could be used in abortion investigations and prosecutions. A week after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overruled the constitutional right to abortion, Alphabet Inc.’s Google (GOOGL) said it would delete members’ location history for visits to abortion clinics and other sensitive locations.
Michael Connor, the executive director of Open MIC, said the group submitted its proposal in mid-December, and that its discussions with both IPG and Acxiom “have not been productive.”
“Acxiom has the potential to set a standard for the industry in positive (and negative) ways,” Floberg said. IPG has signaled its concern over the issue, they added; last year, the company said it would cover travel costs for employees who need abortion care.
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