If the news of Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signing into law a bill that provides $2 million in state funding to anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) boiled your blood, please relocate yourself to a cool, air-conditioned room before reading any further.
According to a recent Reuters report, an enterprising mobile advertisement company has taken it upon themselves to repurpose their location-targeting advertisement platform to send anti-choice rhetoric to women’s smartphones in abortion clinics.
“Geo-fencing” is a location-based advertising technique that sets virtual perimeters around the physical world that trigger specific advertisements when a person with a location-sensitive smartphone enters the space. Although geo-fencing has been around for several years, Copley Advertising is the first to use the technology to invade the privacy of individuals in waiting rooms of abortion clinics or Planned Parenthood facilities.
You may have experienced this kind of advertising before, and it isn’t always a bad thing. The JetBlue app, for instance, will send you helpful notifications about preparing for a flight if it notices you within the vicinity of an airport. Restaurant apps may offer you a discount if you walk into the vicinity of one of their locations.
But this is just another example of how conservative activist groups prevent us from having nice things. John Flynn, the CEO of Copley Advertising, has actively promoted his geo-fencing advertisement platform to anti-choice activist groups. As he told Pregnancy Help News, “The life-affirming message is in our belief system.” Among those currently using his advertisement platform are RealOptions, a chain of CPCs whose website cites death as one of the risks of an abortion procedure, and Bethany Christian Services, a right-wing adoption agency known for pushing propaganda that urges pregnant women to have the baby and put it up for adoption.
They are getting real results too. Copley Advertising bragged that one of their clients reached over 800,000 young women in abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood facilities. The advertisements use hooks like “Pregnancy Help” or “You Have Options” to draw women in, all while encouraging them to take their time and get “all the facts” first. This delay tactic aims to draw women into crisis pregnancy centers which shamelessly provide faulty medical information in order to scare women into avoiding abortions altogether.
Beyond this, there are pressing concerns about Copley’s ability to track all the people who enter the virtual perimeters of any abortion clinic while using an app to which the Copley advertisement platform has access. Each smartphone is registered with a personal identification number which can be linked to the personal identities of the workers and patients at these clinics.
This is being used—legally—to monitor anyone who visits an abortion clinic. Flynn has boasted, “We can tag all the smartphones entering and leaving the nearly 700 Planned Parenthood clinics in the US.” Given the history of violence towards abortion clinic workers and patients, this kind of data, even if not being used maliciously, is dangerous to compile; it remains vulnerable to hacking attempts that could place it in the hands of someone who wishes to commit acts of violence targeted at abortion providers or patients.
It is vitally important that women and their partners or friends who plan on visiting abortion clinics or Planned Parenthood facilities switch off the GPS on their phone. However, this may not be enough, because geo-fencing can also triangulate a cell phone’s location through its proximity to nearby cell phone towers or through the IP address of the Wi-Fi network that they are using. Consequently, it is important to not allow an app to access to your phone’s location unless it is vitally necessary. You often have no idea who is in possession of that information and all of the ways it will be used.
For more information about how to stay safe while using your smartphone, please see Reuters’s helpful informational video below and share this information. Awareness is the first step toward passing laws, which will prohibit this kind of dangerous abuse of privacy from continuing.