If you’ve read this blog long enough, you probably know that one of my favorite opening lines is “just when I thought the anti-choice movement couldn’t sink any lower…”. There’s good reason for that.
Last year, an enterprising advertising executive based in Boston, Massachusetts, had an idea: Instead of using his sophisticated mobile surveillance techniques to figure out which consumers might be interested in buying shoes, cars, or any of the other products typically advertised online, what if he used the same technology to figure out which women were potentially contemplating abortion, and send them ads on behalf of anti-choice organizations?
Targeting advertising has become very sophisticated; it’s not implausible they could buy ads on pharmacy website pages that sell pregnancy tests, then use that trigger to bombard that same person with anti-choice ads. But that’s not very far down the waterline.
He sends advertisements for his clients to women’s smartphones while they are sitting in Planned Parenthood clinics, using a technology known as “mobile geo-fencing.” He also planned to ping women at methadone clinics and other abortion facilities.
Yep, that’s right. This ad executive wants to reach into the waiting rooms of abortion clinics, and flood the people inside with anti-choice propaganda. Note the reference to methadone clinics, too; as usual, they’re hoping to prey on people at their weakest and most emotionally fraught. But hold on to your butts, because
“We can reach every Planned Parenthood in the U.S.,” he wrote in a PowerPoint display sent to potential clients in February. The Powerpoint included a slide titled “Targets for Pro-Life,” in which Flynn said he could also reach abortion clinics, hospitals, doctors’ offices, colleges, and high schools in the United States and Canada, and then “[d]rill down to age and sex.” “We can gather a tremendous amount of information from the [smartphone] ID,” he wrote. “Some of the break outs include: Gender, age, race, pet owners, Honda owners, online purchases and much more.”
The more information you have about a person, the more likely you are to track them down. And with many states legally mandating waiting periods before getting an abortion and multiple visits, there’s a decent chance you could find and intercept them before they have an abortion.
Worst of all? All of the above is legal, in the USA.
But the anti-choice movement hasn’t been too concerned about legality, historically, and have been allowed to push the boundaries thanks to the deep pockets of organizations like Life Legal Defense Foundation, the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, and many others. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these groups started inserting malvertising that made personal tracking even easier, and because of the ad’s targeted nature it’d be tough to trace back to the source. Or “better” still, track down the home address and route to work of every employee in the clinic, or record every word they say during the day.
That last paragraph is speculation, I’ll admit. But given the depths the anti-choice movement keeps sinking to, I don’t think it’ll stay speculation for long.