After Roe, Universities Emphasize Students’ Digital Privacy, or Emphasize Lack Thereof

“When was your last period?” medical professionals ask patients during routine gynecological examinations. Menstrual tracking can help you achieve or avoid pregnancy, understand fertility, predict premenstrual syndrome, and detect cycle irregularities that serve as early warning signs of health problems. But if that information is recorded in a smartphone app, it could be used as evidence of criminal activity in states where abortion is restricted.

Weeks after the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision—a federal right to abortion access that spanned nearly 50 years—advocates for digital privacy called for government action on personal health information found in period-tracking apps. Warned about access and weaponization.

Some colleges are now warning students that governments aren’t the only ones who may want to monitor reproductive health information, and menstrual tracking apps aren’t the only digital means to do so. . In addition to governments and hackers, close partners of college students, parents, boarders, colleges and others may also have access to digital trails that paint a complete picture of reproductive health decision-making. In addition to apps, web search history, text messages, and location tracking all have the potential to expose a student’s personal health information.

As universities have adapted to the post-Roe landscape, many have provided students with a variety of direct, indirect, and sometimes outdated messages on how to protect virtual privacy.

direct message

“If we live in a system where abortion is defined as a crime, people will have the job of investigating and prosecuting crimes,” said Anton Derbra, executive director of the Institute for Information Security at Johns Hopkins University. You will be rewarded for doing so,” he said. His message is posted on his university webpage titled “Deleting Your Period Tracker Doesn’t Keep Your Health Data Private.”

Stanford University also has an information page where Michelle Mello, a professor of health policy and law, told the university community how Internet service providers can share data with law enforcement for use in criminal prosecutions. It reminds me that I have sex. Mello said this commercial data is often sold or shared with third parties and could be used as evidence to enforce anti-abortion laws.

Kelly Martin, a marketing professor specializing in digital privacy at Colorado State University, also spoke about the need for students to protect their digital reproductive information.she said Inside higher education Students should be made aware that personal health data stored in the app is not protected by HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).

“I may not even consider all the digital emissions I’m leaving on the web and the potential crime I’ve created for myself,” she said, referring to the university’s Center for Women’s Health. suggested discussing it with the students.

Jessa Ringel, an associate professor of communications at Pennsylvania State University, said students should know how colleges monitor them. It can be used to track student locations, monitor the websites students visit while connected to the campus Wi-Fi, and record the type of phone or laptop they use. Such information can be problematic for students at institutions that do not provide contraception or various reproductive health services.

“We … have legislation on student records so students have a sense that the university is the custodian of their information,” Lingel said. “However, searching for basic information about reproductive health options is not protected in the same way that students assume.”

Student Voice Survey Inside higher education revealed last year that students were ignorant about how universities treat their data, and experts advised to help educational institutions think more critically about data privacy.

indirect message

Most universities provide information on protecting digital privacy, and most also provide information on reproductive health. However, the information is not always paired, which places a burden on students.

“Letting students connect the dots is a dangerous strategy,” Ringel said. “It’s really important that universities don’t do that. [rely on] Having information about privacy in one place and information about reproductive health in another helps students connect the dots. ”

That said, universities have options if they want to address this issue without politicizing their online privacy programs.

“We use the Roe v. Wade decision as a way to say, ‘This is an example to really take seriously,’ but there are other examples,” Lingel said. “That may actually be more effective than trying to make it a political issue first and foremost.” I work with a wide variety of people who have cancer and are making unanticipated medical decisions.

Both Martin and Lingel suggest that campus health officials and digital privacy workers are now being offered opportunities to work together. These offices offer the right portfolio of expertise and resources to highlight that governments and hackers aren’t the only threats. Paying parents, intimate partners, and friends and peers with different values ​​may seek access to your personal health information.

“This information was incorporated into the orientation guide and [residential] Lingel talks about small steps students can take to better manage their data.

“Whenever possible, women can talk about their reproductive health concerns offline and face-to-face only with highly trusted partners,” Martin said. “It’s the safest place they can be right now.”

outdated message

Experts say some educational institutions’ messages about reproductive health privacy are dated and can be problematic for students who view university websites as a trusted source of health information. There is a nature.

For example, a webpage from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign published in 2014 emphasizes the value of using an app to track your period.

“Whether your goal is simply to track when your period is coming or you’re actively trying to conceive, I encourage you to try one of the many period tracking apps out there. I will!” website note. “Here’s a list of period tracking apps!”

Martin called such outdated messages “scary.” Her research shows that some period tracking apps have “lax or non-existent” privacy policies. Privacy protection information should be kept up-to-date and stored where students can find it when and where they need it.

“If I’m a young student, struggling, and concerned about my health, I may not necessarily look back at the university’s digital privacy briefing I received earlier this semester.

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