3 min read

Creepin’ data brokers & their harms to repro workers

Hey all - I’m back again, this time exploring one of our biggest campaigns and a piece that came out recently featuring two of our staff’s own experiences with harassment and privacy.  - Lia


Google yourself and the city where you live. I’ll wait.

If you’re an activist, abuse survivor, journalist, or civil servant, chances are that you said to yourself: “I’ve already done that this week.”

Data brokers have made a business out of splashing everyone’s personal info across the internet for anyone to find. Gone are the days of the White Pages, hand-delivered to our doors once a year with the updated home phone numbers and addresses of consenting adults in our own cities. Now, we have tech companies like WhitePages.com and they’re way, way more creepy and way, way less consensual.

You can look up anyone, anywhere and find info like their birthday, cell phone number, current and past addresses, email addresses, and links to relatives. In the hands of all the scammers, grifters, stalkers, and forced birth extremists who are gobbling up this data, groups of people like those I mentioned at the top receive harassment and much worse. 

Recently, The 19th investigated the reality that this creates for reproductive health workers, activists, and patients. My colleagues at Fight, Sarah Philips and Jade Pfaefflin Bounds, were interviewees: 

“Especially in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that ended a federal right to abortion, reproductive health and justice advocates are more visible online,” Philips said. “You’re fundraising online, you’re doing fund-a-thons online, you’re educating people about Supreme Court cases, you’re talking to the media. We have to do all those things because of the state of reproductive and abortion access right now.”

The article continues: "That digital presence is necessary to raise awareness about services and current legislation, but it can come at a cost. After Eugenia Schauerman, admin and accounting manager at Northwest Abortion Access Fund (NWAAF), was interviewed for a state newspaper, a clinic received mailed threats meant for her…

When the abortion fund decided to pay for a personal information removal service for employees, it felt like a blanket solution to a complex problem. Pfaefflin Bounds had a lot of questions about how the service worked and what sorts of information needed to be scrubbed. He was unsure how it would cover him as a trans person who changed his name. Did he also need to purchase a subscription for his husband, in case the two of them could be linked?”

I strongly recommend reading the whole piece.

While it’s technically possible to request removal of your info from data broker sites, there are over 500 such sites, each one requiring a separate removal request. You can also pay a service like DeleteMe to do this for you, but they don’t catch all the listings and they’re expensive, and as Jade described, it can get pretty complicated.

Enter the DELETE Act, a bill currently being considered by the House that would establish a national “Do Not Call” list for data brokers. The DELETE Act would allow people to opt out from all data broker websites with one click. One click that would save dozens of hours and a constant game of whack-a-mole as data brokers re-list information you asked them to take down. This would be a game changer, particularly for people who need to maintain some level of anonymity to do important work in the face of supremacy-fueled opposition. 

While a bill like the DELETE Act may seem like a no-brainer, when has politics ever been uncomplicated? Congress is also considering a much weaker version of the DELETE Act as a part of the new federal privacy bill, the American Privacy Rights Act of 2024 (APRA). This alternative version basically pretends it’s the DELETE Act, but upon closer read it fines data brokers less money than it would cost them to do an opt-out system. It also keeps the onus on individuals to opt out of those 500+ websites hosting our personal info click-by-infinite-click. 

We’re currently driving calls to Congress urging lawmakers to support the DELETE Act. Calls actually do make a difference in scenarios like this. Data privacy is a non-partisan issue that affects every person living in this country, and our government needs to do everything it can to protect us from companies that see endangering us as nothing more than a means to raking in money. 

For an easy 5-minute tool to call decision makers in the house, including a script, visit https://www.donotdox.com/call/

Imagine: this time next year, data brokers could be totally banned from listing your info and the  intimate personal details for all your loved ones. Privacy is safety, and if we get the DELETE Act we’ll live in a world with more of both.

Thanks for taking the time to read (and hopefully resist) these vultures.