Anti-Choice Protesters Find a Way to Follow Patients Into Abortion Clinics

An investigative report by Rewire News has found that abortion protesters have finally grabbed the brass ring: They’ve figured out how to follow people into clinics — and the tool they’re using is right in patients’ pockets.

The tactic is called mobile geofencing, and it relies on the fact that smartphones are a ubiquitous possession among the target demographic of young women in their late teens and early 20s.

Once people battle their way through the ranks of screaming protesters outside a clinic and open up their phones for distraction inside, intrusive anti-abortion ads pop up on their devices, spreading misinformation and intimidating patients.

If you’re wondering how this is legal, welcome to the brave new world of mobile advertising, where slippery laws about privacy create a sort of Wild West environment. And the practice of geofencing is already widespread.

Have you ever landed at an airport or disembarked at a train station only to see Lyft and Uber ads pop up on your phone? That’s geofencing.

Advertising agencies pick a geographic location — like a transit hub — and push tailored ads to visitors with the goal of nabbing customers. A tired passenger might download a ridesharing app, for example, or a shopper might decide to pop into a store that’s advertising a big sale.

Anyone with “location services” turned on who happens to walk into a given zone can see targeted advertising. Many people don’t think about their security on apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, leaving location services on by default.

But anti-abortion advertisers are taking it a step further. They’re taking advantage of the unique advertising identification associated with every smartphone to drill down to a very specific demographic: 18 to 24-year-old women who have recently visited or searched for clinics, hospitals and reproductive health providers — known in their parlance as “abortion-minded women.”

Getting chills? You should be.

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