Anti-Choice Groups Use Mobile Location Data to Target “Abortion-Minded Women”
Anti-choice groups are well-known for invading the privacy of others; they do it regularly in person on city streets, towards people who are just trying to get to a medical appointment or even just go about their day. Did you know that now they can also fill your smartphone with anti-choice marketing, based on your search history or your proximity to an abortion clinic?
Other organizations and corporations have already figured out how to use location services for targeted advertising, as Rewire reports in the video above. You’ve probably already consented to let apps on your phone use your location data, without thinking twice about what that means. This allows corporations to give you advertisements based on your physical location and browsing history, which is pretty creepy. But it’s even creepier when anti-choice organizations are also using your browsing history and location data to try to convince you not to get an abortion.
John Flynn, the CEO of Copley Advertising, is the terrifying mastermind behind this marketing concept. Once he figured out the wonders of selling mobile geofencing to corporate advertisers, he decided to start marketing the idea to crisis pregnancy centers–and it worked out great. For them, anyway. Not so much for you.
Just as a reminder, crisis pregnancy centers don’t actually offer abortions, although they’re set up to make it seem as though they could. Samantha Bee’s recent coverage of the anti-choice ethos behind crisis pregnancy centers will get you caught up, if you’re unfamiliar with how they operate. Essentially, they use medical language to get people in the door, but then all they do is try to talk people out of abortions and/or provide them with medically inaccurate information.
Flynn’s advertising strategy is just as underhanded as the organization that he’s chosen to serve. The ads target women who are in an abortion clinic or nearby to one, and they give the appearance of offering more information about abortions. Rewire‘s coverage includes examples of what the ads look like; they include phrases like “Be informed” and “Get the facts first.” However, clicking on these ads won’t necessarily take you to “facts.” Instead, they’ll whisk you away to a pro-life source like RealOptions, which is funded by the Christian conservative organization Focus on the Family.
The larger concern here is that Flynn’s advertising strategies aren’t illegal. It’s completely acceptable for potential advertisers to look at a person’s browsing history, location data, and so on, and then use that to create targeted marketing. The potential for misuse is staggering. Unsuspecting people could click on an ad on their phone, fill out what appears to be an innocuous medical form, and unwittingly provide all of their personal information to a group that could misuse it.
Obviously, you shouldn’t be clicking on ads on your phone and filling out forms, but if it looks like a real medical website, then why would you question it? Do you think twice about what you click on, and what information you provide afterwards? Most people don’t, and one could hardly blame them for not knowing any better.
One possible solution is to look through the location services section on your phone and make sure that you consent to every app that has it turned on. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem like a solution that will always work (it’s not like you can turn off location services for any map-based app). So, it’s also good to be aware of how targeted advertising works, and to always question the links that appear on your phone, even if they look completely legitimate. Lastly, don’t fill out forms on your phone unless you’re positive that the website is one that you recognize.
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