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By Thomas Baekdal - July 2022

How do we publish news to young people? And let's talk about abortion privacy

This is an archived version of a Baekdal Plus newsletter (it's free). It is sent out about once per week and features the latest articles as well as unique insights written specifically for the newsletter. If you want to get the next one, don't hesitate to add your email to the list.

Welcome back to another edition of the newsletter. Today, I have a couple of interesting things for you:


How to publish to young people

One thing that most legacy publishers struggle with is how to make themselves relevant to young people. Just about a month ago, one of the newspaper groups here in my country dropped their effort to make a dedicated newspaper for young people, arguing that it was too difficult to get young people to buy a subscription ... which is not the first time we have heard that.

The problem here, however, is mostly a definition problem. What young people want from news is a very different type of journalism, and a very different product to what most newspapers do today. So if all you do is to say: "We are going to publish articles for young people", you are pretty much guaranteed to fail.

So, what should you do? Well, in my latest Plus report, I talk about all the problems, misconceptions, and the changes that publishers need to focus on in order to make this work.

Take a look at: "How to publish news for young people (advisory analysis)"


Abortion and privacy is everyone's problem

It is absolutely mind boggling to see how the United States of America is basically falling apart from within. Not a week (or day) goes by without some new insane thing. Whether that be the US Supreme Courts preventing effective climate action, (which is a threat not just to the US, but to everyone on this planet) or an education board trying to reclassify the history of slavery to instead be called: "involuntary relocation", to ... well... so many other things.

Of course, the really big change over the past two weeks has been about abortion. Millions of women in the US lost their rights to their own body, which is not just bad from the US perspective, but is actually a violation of the UN Charter of Human Rights.

I'm reminded of a tweet that said this:

In Iran, if a 10-year-old girl is raped and impregnated by her father, she must carry the baby to term, or be thrown in prison for life. Wait, sorry, no. That's Alabama, USA.

I mean what the frak USA? Even third-world countries are doing better than this. Every day they are making progress to become a more modern and enlightened society, while the US is trying to go back to the year 1776.

Now, I don't want to discuss the larger political issues here. I don't live in the US, so I don't have a say in that, and this is a media newsletter. But I do want to talk about privacy.

Because of the situation in the US, millions of women will be faced with having to seek abortion 'out of state' or to get an abortion pill, often at huge risk to themselves, not just in terms of prosecution but also at a risk to their health, and this is a problem from a privacy perspective.

One example is the many period tracking apps. Not only will a prosecutor be able to use that data to put women in jail, but many of those apps are also using third party tracking which can be used to link to other activity that could further help prosecutors map what a woman has done.

That is obviously bad, and women from affected states are now being advised to simply not use any of those apps. It's just too much of a privacy risk.

Similarly, there have been numerous calls to the tech platforms, and especially Google, to stop their location, site, and search tracking to protect people's privacy.

One example is this article from the Washington Post:

And Google has already responded to this. They have said that they will make two changes:

First, they are going to auto-delete location data if you visit a health clinic.

Some of the places people visit - including medical facilities like counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics, cosmetic surgery clinics, and others - can be particularly personal. Today, we're announcing that if our systems identify that someone has visited one of these places, we will delete these entries from Location History soon after they visit. This change will take effect in the coming weeks.

And secondly, they are going to implement a change in their Fitbit platform, so that period tracking logs can be deleted in bulk.

For Google Fit and Fitbit, we give users settings and tools to easily access and control their personal data, including the option to change and delete personal information, at any time. For example, Fitbit users who have chosen to track their menstrual cycles in the app can currently delete menstruation logs one at a time, and we will be rolling out updates that let users delete multiple logs at once.

It's nice that Google is doing 'something', but I don't think this is enough. You see, with privacy and tracking, the problem isn't just the data you have, it's also about the data you can infer.

Take location data as an example. Imagine you have a young woman who had gotten pregnant against her will, but her state has made it illegal to get an abortion. So, now she has to go to another state, in secret (and illegally), to do it.

So, Google now says that if they detect that she has been at the location of a clinic, they will delete that point. Okay, well, that's nice ... but what about the journey?

If a prosecutor were to get hold of this data, then they could see that this woman had stayed in her home town all month, until one day, she suddenly traveled out of state for one day. Sure, the prosecutor can't see where she went precisely because there seems to be some location data missing at the middle of the day, but they still have evidence that she traveled.

So, it's not enough for Google to just delete those specific points. You can infer that she was doing something without it. So Google has to delete the whole thing. Not just the points, but the entire journey ... probably even more than that. They have to delete so much data that not only are the visits to the clinics removed, but also everything leading up to and after the visit. You should not be able to tell that this person did something different.

In fact, I don't think even deleting the entire day or week is enough. The very second that Google is detecting that someone went to a clinic, they need to delete all of the location data ... just wipe it all!

And this is the problem with privacy. The data that you infer from other data, and even from missing data is just as powerful, especially if you can combine this with other evidence and other data sources.

But this also leads us to the much bigger problem. Because this is not just about Google.

In the press, we have a very unhealthy obsession with Google and Facebook, just read the WaPo article, and we tend to ignore or dismiss that they are not the only places where this data is collected.

Let me give you an example of just how bad this is.

Take the young woman from before. She got pregnant, and has now travelled to a clinic in another state to get an abortion. To protect herself, she has turned off Google location sharing, so Google is no longer tracking her location.

Right?

Well, when she gets to the clinic, there is a bit of a wait, so she sits down in the waiting room, and starts to read articles on Teen Vogue to pass the time (and to manage the stress of the moment).

Like this article about shoes on sale. This looks innocent enough... right?

Well, the problem is that Teen Vogue, and every other publisher, is using third-party ad tech companies, and these companies are collecting... Well, if we look at Teen Vogue's GDPR dialog (only shown to people visiting from Europe) it is tracking precise geolocation data !!

In other words, if a prosecutor bought this data from a data broker, they could use the data to prosecute this woman, even when she was just reading about shoes. It would tell the prosecutor that this person was at this location when they were reading that article.

And we know this is possible because journalists have looked into this in the past, and have been able to very precisely map out people's lives using data purely from third-party data brokers.

And BTW: The same is true for the Washington Post article. Sure, you are telling people how to avoid tracking (and it's good advice), but that article is also filled with trackers.

If you were to read that article, while visiting a clinic, you have already been compromised, because there is no way to get that data back, or have it deleted.

And, of course, it isn't just about clinics. Another form of abortion is with abortion pills, which is now also illegal in several states. That doesn't stop people, of course, so they might turn to an article like this one from the Atlantic.

But again, that article has tons of trackers on it, which, in the US, are all tracking people secretly.

So if a prosecutor is trying to build the case that a young woman has been illegally buying and using abortion pills, they don't need Google to prove that case. A far easier method would just be to get data from the ad tech companies and the data brokers ... who have a more comprehensive profile about people across hundreds of sites.

Even sites like 19thnews.org, which has done such a great job covering this topic, and helping women, is filled with trackers.

In other words, we, as publishers, are right now putting young women at risk. And you can't make excuses by saying that "you don't control the ad tech". As a publisher, you put these trackers on your site, and you know what they are doing. It's our responsibility.

And, this is also not just a US problem. Ad tech tracking is borderless. So if a woman from Alabama, USA reads an article about abortion pills in a UK publication, then the ad tech tracking data still happens. The prosecutors can still use that to prove their case.

This problem impacts all of us, every newspaper and every magazine that is using third-party tracking, everywhere on the planet!!

The reason I point this out is because, as a media analyst, I see that we are holding everyone else to account. We blame Google for not doing enough. We tell Facebook to step up and be responsible. We demand that period tracking apps stop collecting data. And we tell Amazon to protect womens privacy by not revealing their purchases. But what are we doing as the press? What have we changed? How are we holding our own industry to account?

We know, as a fact, that newspaper and magazine sites are those who have the most third-party trackers of all sites online. Most of the data broker industry relies on us for their data.

So, what are we doing about this?

These are just two examples.

We are putting young women's lives at risk here. We can't just pretend that it's only Google who needs to do something about it. This is our responsibility too.


Want to know more?

I have written many more articles about privacy and the impact it has on us as publishers. Probably the most important one is this:

Also, don't forget the latest Plus report about how to create a newspaper for young people. While it doesn't talk about privacy, it does talk about what young people expect from the news in these situations.


Support this focus

Also, remember that while this newsletter is free for anyone to read, it's paid for by my subscribers to Baekdal Plus. So if you want to support this type of analysis and advice, subscribe to Baekdal Plus, which will also give you access to all my Plus reports (more than 300), and all the new ones (about 25 reports per year).

This is an archived version of a Baekdal Plus newsletter (it's free). It is sent out about once per week and features the latest articles as well as unique insights written specifically for the newsletter. If you want to get the next one, don't hesitate to add your email to the list.

 
 
 

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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé

 

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