Your Phone Is A Narc

Katie Fedigan-Linton
3 min readMay 11, 2022
Close up of white person’s hands typing on a phone in ominous darkness

As the landmark Roe v Wade is set to be overturned, liberal and Leftist social media became flooded with directives to delete pregnancy apps from our phones. While this is not bad advice, my friend Kate, who works for the Digital Defense Fund providing digital security for the abortion access movement, weighed in on Twitter:

Original tweet here

While it is common knowledge that corporate apps like Facebook and Lyft collect our data for advertising purposes, it’s not well known that law enforcement regularly purchases that data. This means that people seeking abortion care can be arrested and prosecuted for what seemed like private conversations and interactions on their phones. Basically, your phone is a narc.

Luckily, there are several easy ways to protect yourself from the privacy violations Kate outlines in her tweet:

  1. Texts to a friend: SMS (the default way to text on an Android, or those green texts on an iPhone) is not a private or secure way to message someone. Even iMessage, while being much more secure than SMS, has it’s share of privacy issues. So instead of using either SMS or iMessage, you can download Signal for free. In addition to working across platforms and being end-to-end encrypted, Signal uses no trackers and has a Disappearing Messages function you can set to one week, one day, or even one hour. This setting permanently removes your conversation history, leaving nothing for law enforcement to find.
  2. Google Search history: most people have had cause to erase their browser’s search history now and then, but that has nothing to do with one’s Google Search history, which was saved indefinitely until 2019 when security measures started to improve. While you can now set your Google account to automatically delete your search history if it’s older than 3 months, that’s not especially helpful if you’re currently trying to access information about or get an appointment for an abortion. Instead of using Google, try DuckDuckGo, a free search engine that doesn’t store your search history, so there’s nothing to snoop or sell.
  3. Email receipts for pills in inbox: our email inboxes may seem private, but Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo do not use end-to-end encryption. This means that, by default, your email is sent in normal text that practically anyone can intercept and read. Popular email services like gmail should never be used to share sensitive information, whether it’s related to abortion or not. Instead, create and use a ProtonMail account, a free and encrypted email service based in Switzerland, which has much better privacy protections than the U.S. Keep in mind that your email could still be compromised if you send a message from ProtonMail to someone who uses Google, Microsoft, or most other popular free email services, since their end is not encrypted. So instead of using ProtonMail for regular emailing, only use it for accessing abortion services and then delete your ProtonMail account entirely once your finished.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to de-narc-ifying your phone — did you know that law enforcement can’t legally make you to give them your passwords or PINs, but can force you to open your phone with your thumb or face ID? —so I highly recommend checking out the Digital Defense Fund’s entire privacy guide for more information.

Our phones may be narcs by default, but we have the tools to reshape them into powerful devices that work for us, not those who would sell us out.

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Katie Fedigan-Linton

Freelance writer for hire. Politics, current events, cybersecurity, fiction, TV, film, etc. https://linktr.ee/KatieFL Tip jar: https://bit.ly/ktrex1312