Meta-owned Facebook is collecting ultra-sensitive personal data about abortion seekers and allowing anti-abortion organisations to use that data to target and influence people online, media reports say.
A joint investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and The Markup found that Facebook is already collecting data about people who visit the websites of hundreds of crisis pregnancy centers.
Meta prohibits websites and apps that use Facebook’s advertising technology from sending Facebook “sexual and reproductive health” data.
After investigations by The Wall Street Journal in 2019 and New York state regulators in 2021, the social media giant created a machine-learning system to help detect sensitive health data and blocked data that contained any of 70,000 health-related terms.
But Reveal and The Markup have found Facebook’s code on the websites of hundreds of anti-abortion clinics.
Using Blacklight, a Markup tool that detects cookies, keyloggers and other types of user-tracking technology on websites, Reveal analysed the sites of nearly 2,500 crisis pregnancy centers — with data provided by the University of Georgia — and found that at least 294 shared visitor information with Facebook.
In many cases, the information was extremely sensitive — for example, whether a person was considering abortion or looking to get a pregnancy test or emergency contraceptives.
In a statement to Reveal and The Markup, Facebook spokesperson Dale Hogan said: “It is against our policies for websites and apps to send sensitive information about people through our Business Tools,” which includes its advertising technology.
“Our system is designed to filter out potentially sensitive data it detects, and we work to educate advertisers on how to properly set up our Business Tools,” the spokesperson added.
Facebook declined to answer detailed questions about its filtering systems and policies on data from crisis pregnancy centers.
The report mentioned that it is unknown whether the filters caught any of the data, but our investigation showed a significant amount made its way to Facebook.