In a Post-Roe World, the Future of Digital Privacy Looks Even Grimmer

Some location data analytics companies, including Foursquare, recently announced that they were restricting the use, sharing and sale of data on consumers’ visits to sensitive locations like reproductive health clinics. But law enforcement agencies with warrants may still obtain such location records.

The phone carriers that operate the backbone of the wireless internet for smartphones have been mum about plans to modify data policies after the reversal of Roe v. Wade. AT&T, T-Mobile and CTIA, a trade group representing the carriers, declined to comment, and Frank Boulben, Verizon’s chief revenue officer, said the company had nothing new to announce.

For now, those seeking to obscure their digital tracks have limited options. Here’s what they are.

Several tools can be employed to combat surveillance, including virtual private networks, encrypted messaging apps, private web browsers and burner email accounts, civil liberties groups and privacy experts said.

What it does: A VPN creates a virtual tunnel that shields browsing information from an internet service provider. When people use VPN software, their device connects to a VPN provider’s servers. All their web traffic passes through the VPN provider’s internet connection. So if their internet provider was trying to listen in on their web traffic while they were browsing Planned Parenthood’s website, the provider would see only the VPN server’s internet address connected to the VPN service.

What it doesn’t do: A VPN does not conceal a device’s location from a cellular network. That’s because a device has to register to a nearby cell tower before connecting to the VPN, which would reveal the device location to the phone carrier, Mr. Eren said.

What it does: When a message is encrypted through a chat service like Apple’s iMessage, Meta’s WhatsApp or Signal, it is scrambled when sent so that it becomes indecipherable to anyone but its intended recipient, and it remains so when it passes through the app’s server and reaches the recipient.