The leaked draft of a Supreme Court decision that could overturn Roe v. Wade has many preparing for what appears to be an all-but-certain future in which abortion is illegal in many parts of the United States. The pervasive and barely regulated data collection industry could have a big role to play in investigating and proving cases against people accused of performing or getting what may soon be illegal abortions.
We don’t know if that will happen, but we do know a lot of data is readily available if law enforcement wants it because there’s very little, legally, restricting its collection. And we also know the police use that data all the time, getting it through court order or by simply buying it. Through your phone and your computer, they can find out where you go, who you interact with, what you say, what you search the internet for, which websites you visit, and what apps you download.
This isn’t just true of abortion-related data; police have always had ways to access your private data. But now, a lot of people who weren’t concerned about what the police or data brokers knew about them before may suddenly have a lot to worry about — and there’s very little out there to keep their private lives private in a court of law.
“The dangers of unfettered access to Americans’ personal information have never been more obvious,” Sen. Ron Wyden, a longtime advocate and proponent of online privacy laws, told Recode.
One bigconcern seems to be whether period tracker apps could be used to find and prosecute people who get abortions. Period apps are problematic for a lot of reasons, but somehow tipping off the police that you got an abortion is pretty far down on the list. Far worse is the pervasive and barely regulated data collection industry that has been allowed to build and share detailed profiles of all of us for years. The fact is, it’s easy enough to delete a period app from your phone. It’s a lot harder to delete the data it collected about you. And it’s justaboutimpossible to conceal the rest of the online trail that could help prove you broke an anti-abortion law.
There’s the possibility that all of this data could be used to go after people getting illegal abortions in the future because it’s already being used to help in the investigation of many crimes. An internet search for abortion-inducing drugs was used as evidence to charge with murder a woman who gave birth to a stillborn baby (those charges were dropped). Google data obtained by police placed a man’s phone near the site of a murder; the man was arrested but was later released without charge. Several cases against alleged January 6 insurrectionists have been built on data obtained from companies like Google and Meta. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) buys location data to try to find entry points used by undocumented immigrants.
That doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do. The internet as we know it didn’t exist pre-Roe, when abortion was illegal. It does now. Online privacy laws, on the other hand, largely don’t. But they could.
All the data you give away — and who can get it
For now, as long as they follow the appropriate legal channels, law enforcement agencies can obtain pretty much everything you do on your devices. For almost all of us, that’s a lot of data. You can try to lock down your own device, but if the data is also possessed by a third party like Google, that’s where the police will go to get the information they want.
This can include what’s known as reverse search warrants or keyword searches for devices that were in a certain location — say, a building in which police suspect illegal abortions are being performed — or for devices that searched for certain keywords, like “where can I get an abortion.” There’s a legal gray area here. Some judges have ruled that such searches are unconstitutional, but they’re still happening. In fact, the use of them has increased exponentially in the last several years.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for police to take advantage of the lack of clarity in the law,” Nathan Freed Wessler, deputy director of the ACLU’s speech, privacy, and technology project, said. “Which is why lawmakers can and should step in.”
But there’s no gray area when it comes to evidence law enforcement can get about you specifically if they have reason to believe you’ve committed a crime. To give a recent example: Many cases against alleged January 6 insurrectionists were built on data the FBI got from Google and social media. In some cases, this included the suspect’s movements to and from their homes as well as within the Capitol building. It also included the contents of their emails, web searches, websites visited, and YouTube videos watched. You might think the police having such a large data trail to follow is a good thing when it’s used against people whose actions you disagree with. You might not feel the same way if it’s used against people whose actions you support.
That means that in places where abortion is illegal — assuming such a thing does happen — there won’t be much a company like Google can do if police have a warrant for data that could be evidence of a crime. There’s also the possibility that people pretending to be the police could obtain data, too. As Bloomberg recently reported, it has happened before. That’s why privacy and civil rights advocates say the less data those companies are forced to give to law enforcement, the better. Laws that minimize the amount of data collected, that restrict what other parties can do with that data, and that allow consumers to delete their data would go a long way here.
There’s also the data that the police (and any other especially motivated private citizens) can buy. Data brokers, it turns out, make for a nice workaround to the Fourth Amendment. Law enforcement can simply buy data it would otherwise have to get a court order for, which it may then use to help in its investigations.
We have plenty of examples of this to draw from: The IRS, the FBI, the DEA, ICE, and even the military do this. This data can be as granular as the movements of an individual in the real world, and data brokers love to combine it with what that individual does online for an even more comprehensive and revealing profile. During the Trump administration, ICE didn’t just use cellphone location data to find a tunnel underneath an abandoned KFC that was used to smuggle drugs over the border; it also used it to find out where undocumented immigrants were crossing the border. It’s entirely possible that authorities could use this type of movement data to find out where illegal abortions are being performed.
It’s not just the government that can buy this data. Private businesses and people do it all the time. Vice recently purchased aggregated location data for a week’s worth of visits to 600 “family planning centers,” some of which offer abortions, for just $160 from a company called SafeGraph. (The government is one of SafeGraph’s customers, by the way.) After Vice published a story detailing how it sold data about family planning centers, SafeGraph said it would stop, but it’s safe to assume there are other companies out there still doing similar things. We also have cases of advertising companies using geofencing, or targeting ads to devices within a certain location, to send anti-abortion ads to people inside women’s health clinics.
Data brokers will often say that their data is aggregated and anonymized, but we know there’s no guarantee that the data will stay aggregated and anonymous. Last summer, a priest was outed after a Catholic news outlet obtained location data sourced from Grindr. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Grindr’s data was routinely shared with or sold to Grindr’s ad partners. These are very real, very bad examples of how location data can be obtained, re-identified, and used against someone if it falls into the wrong hands — perhaps those belonging to anti-abortion activists who believe any actions they take are righteous. They also highlight why we need to regulate this industry to prevent it from happening again.
If abortion laws can change, so can privacy laws
There are privacy bills out there that would slow or stop the flow of data that could be used against them. Perhaps the end of Roe v. Wade will be what gets these languishing bills over the finish line.
“There are a number of types of laws that could really make a difference,” Wessler said. “Some of them aimed at what law enforcement can get access to, and some aimed at what companies are allowed to collect and sell about us without our express permission and consent.”
The Fourth Amendment Is Not for Sale Act would close the loophole that allows law enforcement to buy information from data brokers that they’d otherwise have to get with a warrant. Sen. Wyden introduced the bill in April 2021, and it has bipartisan and bicameral support.
“Passing the Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act would make it harder for Republican states to persecute women by buying up big databases of information without warrants and then hunt down anyone seeking an abortion,” Wyden told Recode.
But it doesn’t stop all this data from being out there to be purchased in the first place, and not just by the police. “Far more needs to be done to protect the rights of pregnant people. Every company that collects, stores, or sells personal data should be aware that they could soon be a tool for a radical far-right agenda that is trying to strip women of their fundamental privacy rights,” Wyden explained.
All this assumes that these companies care about who uses their data and how. It also suggests that they’ve implemented measures to minimize and control the flow of it. The fact is, they usually don’t have to do this, and they make more money if they don’t.
Consumer privacy laws would go a long way toward reducing what data is out there and available for anyone to access in the first place. Several bills like this have been introduced in Congress over the years, some with better protections than others. What they all have in common is that none of them went anywhere. Meanwhile, other countries and even some states have advanced stronger consumer privacy laws in recent years.
Privacy laws that require affirmative opt-in consent to collect data — especially sensitive data, like location, health data, and search histories — and give consumers control over if that data is sold or shared would go a long way here. Opt-in consent is the difference between Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature, which doesn’t give out certain types of data unless you tell it to, and Facebook, which just lets you opt out of being tracked after the fact, as long as you can find the option in your privacy settings.
Many privacy advocates also believe opt-in consent should be required before a company can share or sell that data to third parties. Data minimization rules, they say, would also help because these would only allow what an app needs to function to be collected. Customers should also have the right to delete their data upon request.
In lieu of a federal consumer privacy law, individual states have tried to pass their own. A few have recently passed industry-friendly laws that privacy advocates aren’t fond of. But then there’s California, which has the strongest privacy law in the country, or Illinois, which has a biometric privacy law, or Maine, which bans internet service providers from selling their customer’s data without the customer’s consent. New York state lawmakers have been trying to ban reverse search and keyword warrants for years.
A lack of digital privacy might have been a deal you were willing to make when you thought you knew the laws and assumed you’d never break them. But, as we may soon see, laws change. Unless privacy laws also change, by the time you realize you do have something to hide, it’ll be too late.
Some high-end iPhone and iPad models have a LiDAR scanner integrated into the camera module on the back of the device. This effectively gives your device 3D scanning abilities with a few unique and interesting applications.
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What Does the LiDAR Scanner Do?
LiDAR stands for Light Detection And Ranging, but it may also be commonly referred to as “3D laser scanning” or some variation thereon. The technology works by bouncing light waves at surfaces and measuring the reaction time to determine the shape and distance of objects in the area.
Think of it like RADAR (RAdio Detection And Ranging) but for light waves. Unlike RADAR imaging, LiDAR can provide more detailed and crisper scans with smaller equipment. LiDAR uses signals that work in the nanometer range, whereas RADAR requires the use of antennas that produce radio waves at much lower frequencies.
Coupled with the software on your iPhone, the LiDAR scanner can be used to create 3D representations of objects and their surroundings. To do this you’ll need the appropriate software which you can download from the App Store. Some core iPhone features, like the Camera app, will use LiDAR in other ways.
At present, only the iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro, iPad Pro 11-inch (2nd and 3rd generation), and iPad Pro 12.9-inch (4th and 5th generation) are equipped with LiDAR scanners. If you look at the camera array on your device, the LiDAR scanner looks like a small round black circle.
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Create 3D Scans of Places You Love
Imagine if you had an interactive 3D model of your childhood home or a treehouse you built when you were young. Most of us keep photographs to remind us of places we once lived and loved, but what if instead of flat images we were able to take 3D scans instead?
This is possible with apps like Polycam, RoomScan LiDAR, and Canvas: Pocket 3D Room Scanner. Most of these apps are free to use, though there are paid upgrades that remove certain restrictions and improve the quality of the scans that you make. You can see LiDAR scanning in action in a YouTube video published by Polycam.
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Buying a House? Redecorating? Scan First
Capturing a 3D model of a room or building has some very practical uses. If you’re currently looking to rent or buy a house, taking a scan of the building can help you make up your mind whether or not the place is for you. The process is very similar to taking a walk-through video or series of photographs, both of which are common practices in the real estate world.
Not only is a 3D scan more immersive, but it’s also easier to compare sizes, layout, practical space, and potential for renovation and other major work. We’d recommend taking detailed photos and videos in addition to your scan, which works best with apps like Polycam and RoomScan LiDAR.
If you’re planning major work in a home you already own, a 3D scan can give you a base from which to work in a 3D modeling app like Blender (if you’re comfortable working in such an app). Alternatively, it can provide a nice “before and after” comparison to look back on.
And lastly, selling your house without a real estate agent is surging in popularity. These apps allow you to provide 3D environment scans to potential buyers while still cutting down on expensive agent fees.
Photogrammetry is the act of creating 3D objects from photographic data, and it’s a time-consuming process. While the assets that photogrammetry provides are often highly accurate and detailed, the process of taking an item from a series of photographs to a finished model you can use can take hundreds of hours.
By comparison, a scan made on an iPhone or iPad with an app like Polycam can take a matter of minutes. Scanning an object is a bit like taking a video, and when you’re finished you can export a file that can be used in 3D modeling apps like Blender. Once you’ve tidied up your scan you can import objects into 3D engines like Unity and Unreal.
These engines are used heavily in game development, film, and interactive media. Conor O’Kane is a game developer with a YouTube channel who has not only used this technique but created a tutorial showing how to do this and why small developers might be interested in the process.
Scan and Share Interesting or Cherished Items
Are you a collector? Whatever it is you collect—art, plants, games consoles, or even cars—you might get a kick out of exhibiting it online, in a 3D format. Polycam is perfect for this since it includes built-in model sharing with the rest of the Polycam community, or “polyworld” as the app refers to it.
Some people share ice cream or rock crystals, others share their extensive sneaker collection. Even if you don’t have a LiDAR scanner on your iPhone or iPad, Polycam may still be worth the download just to see what people are scanning and sharing.
It’s like Instagram but for 3D models with an interactive element that other forms of media don’t come close to. It’s easy too, even if you make a bit of a mess while scanning the app has intuitive crop controls that allow you to remove background or surface objects.
Tip: For best results, place your item on a stand, pedestal, or stool before scanning
Take Better Photos in the Dark
Your iPhone and iPad already do this, so you don’t need to activate anything to get the benefit. However, if you’re putting off taking photos in the dark since you don’t trust your device’s autofocus, you might want to reconsider if you have a LiDAR-equipped device.
Since LiDAR is capable of judging distances based on how long it takes the light waves to return to the sensor, autofocus in the dark can be better calculated.
You may not have realized this but Apple includes an app called Measure with iOS by default. If you’ve previously discounted and deleted it you can download Measure again for free from the App Store.
The app uses augmented reality to measure real-world distances simply by pointing your phone at a surface. Tap the plus “+” icon to start the measurement and move your device to see it in action.
With a LiDAR scanner, augmented reality is vastly improved on the iPhone and iPad. Measure has gone from being a fun party trick to surprisingly accurate. In our tests, the app was right most of the time, with a margin of error of around 1 cm. This may depend more on how shaky your hands are than anything.
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Get More From AR Apps
Measure is just one such AR app that performs better when paired with a LiDAR-equipped iPhone or iPad. Every other AR app can benefit from the sensor, which provides a more stable experience by gauging distance using light rays rather than estimations derived from a “flat” image.
LiDAR really helps to improve the AR experience across the board, like when you’re creating art in apps like World Brush, SketchAR, and Assemblr. Need to provide remote assistance for a real-world problem? Vuforia Chalk allows you to scribble on real-world objects to help relay the point.
Try out various bits of IKEA furniture in your house with IKEA Place, or bring your child’s LEGO sets to life with LEGO Hidden Side, as demonstrated in the above YouTube video published by the Brothers Brick. If you’d rather have a more educational AR experience, Playground AR provides a whole physics sandbox to play around with.
Of course, these experiences are available on just about any recent iPhone, but the experience is considerably more stable with a LiDAR scanner. Find even more apps to enjoy in Review Geek’s roundup of the best AR apps for iPhone and Android.
While rumors of Apple’s AR and VR “mixed reality” headset have been floating around for years, it sounds like things are starting to heat up. Last week, Apple reportedly showed its board of directors the next-gen headset, signaling a release could be near.
According to a report from Bloomberg, not only did members of the board get to see and try the new Apple VR headset, but engineers are working hard to develop rOS (Reality OS,) the operating system for the wearable.
The report mentions that seven members of the board, along with CEO Tim Cook, got up close and personal with the new VR headset. However, we’re not sure if it was a complete working prototype or the condition of the unreleased device.
And while there are no mentions or even suggestions that the release date is inching closer, it makes sense given that board members are getting a glance at it. Furthermore, lending credence to the idea, Bloomberg said there’s some precedence here, as the board often sees new devices ahead of announcements.
Does that mean Apple is gearing up to release (or at least start teasing) its upcoming mixed reality headset? We’re not sure. If so, we could see some sort of small teaser at the upcoming Apple WWDC developer conference.
That said, earlier reports from Bloomberg suggested that Apple had to push back its plans and release schedule due to “challenges related to content and overheating,” not to mention some issues with the camera system.
Either way, it certainly looks like Apple’s VR headset ambitions are not only heating up but that the project is inching closer to a release date. Considering Bloomberg said nearly 2,000 employees are working on it, maybe we’ll see it sooner than later.
Adding Google Drive to File Explorer lets you access your cloud files without having to open a web browser. You can then manage your cloud files act as if they’re your local files. Here’s how to set that up on your Windows PC.
To add Google Drive to Windows File Explorer, you’ll use the free Google Drive app. This app integrates your cloud files with your local PC, allowing you to upload new files, download existing ones, and enable and disable file syncing.
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Link Google Drive to Windows File Explorer
To start the integration, first, launch a web browser on your PC and open the Google Drive download page. There, click “Download Drive for Desktop” to download the app to your computer.
When your file is downloaded, double-click it to run the installer. In the “User Account Control” prompt that opens, choose “Yes.”
You’re now on Drive’s installation wizard. Here, on the “Install Google Drive?” page, choose if you’d like to add Drive and Google’s online office suite shortcuts to your desktop.
Then click “Install.”
When the app is installed, you’ll see a “Sign in to Google Drive” window. Here, click “Sign in With Browser.”
Your PC’s default web browser will open taking you to the Google site. Here, Google will ask if you’d like to allow your newly installed app to access your Drive files. Enable this permission by clicking “Sign In.”
Google will display a message saying you’ve successfully signed in to your Google account in the Drive app. Close the browser window as you don’t need it anymore.
And that’s it. Google Drive has now been added to your File Explorer. Access it by opening the File Explorer utility using the Windows+E keyboard shortcut.
In File Explorer’s left sidebar, you’ll see a new item called “Google Drive.” Click it to access your cloud files in your familiar file manager app.
You’re all set.
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Configure Google Drive’s Sync Settings
To help you bring your Drive files to your PC, Google Drive offers two sync methods, each offering unique features.
The first method is called “Stream” which lets you manually download files from the cloud to your PC. If you don’t want to fill up your PC’s storage with all your Drive files, this is the method you should enable.
The other method is called “Mirror” which keeps your Drive files on both your cloud storage and your PC. Since this downloads a copy of all your cloud files to your PC, your PC’s storage will fill up pretty quickly.
Once you’ve decided on the sync method you want to use, configure it in the Google Drive app. Do this by first clicking the Google Drive app icon in your PC’s system tray (the bar located at the bottom of your screen).
You’ll see a Drive pane. Here, in the top-right corner, click “Settings” (a cog icon) and choose “Preferences.”
On the window that opens, in the left sidebar, click “Google Drive.”
On the right pane, enable either “Stream Files” or “Mirror Files,” depending on what method you’ve decided to use.
And Google Drive will sync your cloud files accordingly. Enjoy!
To quickly access File Explorer, did you know you can pin the utility to your taskbar?
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