Michigan attorney general issues consumer alert on health applications after abortion ruling

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — With an abortion ban potentially looming, Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a consumer alert Tuesday, advising Michiganians to "very carefully review" policies for cell phone applications that hold personal health data.

The alert from Nessel, a Democrat and the state's top law enforcement official, came 11 days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which had protected access to abortions nationally.

The attorney general's message specifically mentioned programs that track pregnancy, fertility and menstrual cycles and said there is legal concern the information could become evidence if abortion is criminalized.

"There are a lot of unknowns as we face a post-Roe era, but one thing that remains certain is that consumers can protect themselves and their private information," Nessel said in a statement. "I implore Michigan residents to read the fine print in the user agreements for phone applications and programs because their registration often gives companies the right to sell personal information to other companies.

"Be aware that your information may be sold to entities for other uses."

Michigan has a law on the books that dates back to the 1840s and prohibits abortion unless necessary to preserve the life of the mother.

Currently, a preliminary injunction is blocking enforcement of the abortion ban. That order was issued by a state judge in an ongoing case filed by Planned Parenthood of Michigan, which is seeking to overturn the abortion ban.

Nessel has previously said she would not enforce the state abortion ban. But local prosecutors could enforce it.

The attorney general's alert on Tuesday said consumers "should think carefully about what personal data they want to allow a company to access."

"Smart phone applications and programs can collect precise information about a person’s whereabouts," the alert said. "Sometimes, the fine print in the user agreements for these applications and programs give companies the right to sell personal information to other companies that can make it available to advertisers, or whoever wants to pay to obtain it."

Millions of women use applications to help track their menstrual cycles, the alert said.

The alert, which was entitled, "Protecting Private Health and Location Data," recommended people using an application or program to track personal information should know who has access to the data and how they are allowed to use it.

People should review usage terms and private policies in detail, according to the alert.