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 after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
A VPN allows a user to establish an encrypted connection between their device and a private server, making it difficult for third parties to access their online activity. As abortion becomes illegal or restricted in several states, more people seek to hide their messages and search history, as police can use that information to prosecute someone seeking the procedure.
In their letter, Eshoo and Wyden are asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to crack down on VPN providers that engage in deceptive advertising or make false claims about the privacy coverage of their service. The lawmakers cited research from Consumer Reports that showed 75 percent 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 also note reports accusing various VPN services of misusing user data, as well as a “lack of practical tools or independent research to audit VPN providers’ security claims.”
“With abortion illegal or soon to be illegal in 13 states and severely restricted in many others, these abusive and exploitative data practices are simply unacceptable,” the letter said. “We urge the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take immediate action … to curb abusive and deceptive data practices at companies that provide VPN services to protect internet users seeking abortions.” Eshoo and Wyden also want the FTC to developed a pamphlet that informs anyone seeking an abortion about online privacy, as well as outlines the risks and benefits of using a VPN.
Earlier this month, the FTC confirmed it would take action against companies that illegally share health, location and other sensitive data, as 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 visits to abortion clinics.