Facebook ad tools track people seeking abortion services, report says

Facebook collects data on people who visit pregnancy crisis center websites, report says . The findings raise questions about how this data could be misused and Meta’s ability to enforce its advertising policies.

In a survey conducted with markup, Reveal found that hundreds of pregnancy centers in crisis were using the Meta Pixel on their websites. The Meta Pixel allows businesses to keep tabs on their website visitors so they can create targeted ads on Facebook. As the report notes, so-called crisis pregnancy centers are generally not licensed medical facilities and are not bound by HIPAA and other privacy regulations. Instead, they are “mainly run by religiously aligned organizations whose mission is to persuade people to choose an option other than abortion.”

According to Meta rules, the Meta Pixel is supposed to filter out “sensitive” health data, like much of what Reveal found was being collected. “In many cases, the information was extremely sensitive – for example, if someone was considering an abortion or seeking a pregnancy test or emergency contraceptives,” Reveal reports. In some cases, the social network also received data on specific appointments that were requested. The report also revealed that third-party anti-abortion marketing companies were able to access data collected by the Meta Pixel, even though their websites had not been visited.

In a statement provided to Reveal, Meta said that “it is against our policies for websites and apps to send sensitive information about people through our business tools,” referring to the Meta Pixel. “Our system is designed to filter potentially sensitive data it detects, and we work hard to educate advertisers on how to properly configure our commerce tools.”

The issue of online platforms collecting data from people seeking abortion services has taken on new urgency in recent weeks following a leaked draft Supreme Court opinion that would reverse Roe vs. Wade. Privacy advocates have warned that the information could be used to prosecute people seeking abortions in areas where it has been banned. Lawmakers have also raised concerns about it, with Apple, Google and other platforms banning apps that collect data targeting people seeking abortion services.

Majorie T. Leonard