There are no less than four Google Minis in my house. I use Google Docs more than I’d like. Google owns me. Frankly, it was gonna be Apple, Amazon, or Google, so I opted for Google. I live on the internet, so I made the least gross choice. It was a self-care decision fraught with fine print.
However, please don’t mistake my resignation as loyalty. My dislike of Google (and Meta) handing over information to law enforcement to enforce draconian abortion laws makes me want to rid my life of them. From Insider:
Google search histories have been used to prosecute women for their reproductive health choices since before the overturning of Roe v. Wade last year.
In 2018, a Mississippi woman named Latice Fisher was charged with second-degree murder after she delivered a stillborn baby — paramedics discovered the child lifeless, in the woman’s toilet, when she called for help. The charges were based in part on her Google search history, which included a query for “buy Misopristol Abortion Pill Online” 10 days earlier, The Washington Post reported. Officers discovered Fisher’s search history after she surrendered her phone.Katherine Tangalakis-Lippert, Insider
Wait. They’re Doing What?!
General data requests are disturbingly common. For the first six months of 2022, Facebook reported it had over 225,000 request for data. It provided information in 76% of those instances. These requests are especially scary if you’re always logged in to Facebook on your phone.
Using Blacklight, a Markup tool that detects cookies, keyloggers, and other types of user-tracking technology on websites, Reveal analyzed 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.Grace Oldham and Dhruv Mehrotra, The Markup
Can any of us be surprised? If law enforcement wants information regarding supposed criminal activity, Google and Meta are gonna comply. If given then choice between pissing off the consumer and or the police, corporations are gonna throw us under the bus. We’re expendable.
What Can We Do Though?
So, how do we put self-care on this problem? After all, a professor quoted in the Insider article makes clear that–in guarding our data–“the burden to do so falls on the individual user.”
Unless our goal is to live off the grid, none of us have the time, energy, or inclination to worry about our every little use of the internet. We cannot realistically prioritize ourselves AND control each component of how we show up online.
We can, however, do two things:
- Know where to find our data to protect ourselves
- Know how to manipulate data to protect our values
Protection through Self-Care
- Make a list of the online tools you use: This includes apps, websites, browsers, streaming services, etc.
- Go through the settings of each one: Pick an online tool each day. Get to know what information they collect and if you can opt out
- Delete your history where possible: While less convenient for searches and auto-filling data, it might protect you later
- Be honest with yourself: Just because the history is gone off your device doesn’t mean it’s gone from the servers, so . . .
- Be careful going forward: Be mindful of how and where you use the internet from here on out
Consider this: I’ve never looked at my profile in the Taco John’s app. Looking at it while I write this, it has my full name, birthdate, email address, and preferred Taco John’s location. That’s more information than they need especially in exchange for a few bucks off a meal.
When you consider there are over 150 apps on my phone (and I only put 63 there; thanks Samsung), it becomes clear we are individually bleeding data.
So, it’s worth it to take time for your online self-care as a matter of peace, privacy, and safety.
Protection through Community Care
When TechOverlords market invading our privacy as “personalization,” it’s easy to miss how our data is used. If we don’t understand the ins and outs of data collection, it can feel daunting to stop social media corporations from collecting it. Stopping them from using our data to further violate personal rights and bodily autonomy is impossible.
However, everything human-made can still be wrecked, or at least manipulated, by humans.
Using similar tactics as the ones TikTokers deployed on Texas’ snitching system, dropping dead-end leads into data isn’t the worst thing. If social advocacy is part of your self-care plan, this is worth it.
Consider your own Google search history as a starting point. Do you know how to find it? As a long-time advocate for bodily autonomy, I wondered how much data Google had on my search for the word “abortion.”
Here’s blurry video of a portion of my history:
While multiple methods exist to access your data, try this:
- Go to account.google.com and log in
- Under “Privacy & personalization,” click “Manage your data & privacy”
- Go to the “Things you’ve done and places you’ve been” section
- Click “Web & App Activity”
- Note: You might have to verify that you’re you by entering your password again
Here, you can “see and delete” activity from any Google app including Maps, Image Search (GIS), and Assistant.
Or you can track what you intentionally add.
Self-Care + Some Light Subversion
For instance, if you searched for “abortion clinic near me” in Google Maps, then searched for an image of the clinic using GIS, then asked Google Assistant for directions to said clinic, it would sure look like you were wanting to go to that clinic.
You could do all of that and not be seeking an abortion.
Beyond Google, you could use your Instagram DMs or Facebook Messenger to chat with your friends about how to obtain an abortion or abortion pills. You could say, “I’m thinking about an abortion.”
In your posts and stories, you might include #INeedAnAbortion even on posts about soda.
The idea is to put as much bullshit data out there as possible, thus making it harder to pin down anyone who wants an abortion. Now, I don’t pretend to know how data mining works. So, I wandered to Reddit to see what others were saying. It sounds to me like it doesn’t hurt to fuck with the system.
Sure, it’s risky. But keep in mind they have to get a warrant to search some of the information. Wasting their time and resources is no more a drain on taxpayer dollars than anti-abortion politicians are.
This is where self-care and community care combine. When we feel helpless to stop the march right into our reproductive organs, it damages our calm. Damn near every person I talk to shares despair about feeling powerless to stop the erosion of our rights. When social fuckery makes us feel like shit, self-care becomes essential.
So, why not help ourselves while helping others and giving government surveillance the finger?