Article by By Alfred Ng and Maddy Varner: “Last year, nearly 200 million people visited the website of Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit that many people turn to for very private matters like sex education, access to contraceptives, and access to abortions. What those visitors may not have known is that as soon as they opened plannedparenthood.org, some two dozen ad trackers embedded in the site alerted a slew of companies whose business is not reproductive freedom but gathering, selling, and using browsing data.
The Markup ran Planned Parenthood’s website through our Blacklight tool and found 28 ad trackers and 40 third-party cookies tracking visitors, in addition to so-called “session recorders” that could be capturing the mouse movements and keystrokes of people visiting the homepage in search of things like information on contraceptives and abortions. The site also contained trackers that tell Facebook and Google if users visited the site.
The Markup’s scan found Planned Parenthood’s site communicating with companies like Oracle, Verizon, LiveRamp, TowerData, and Quantcast—some of which have made a business of assembling and selling access to masses of digital data about people’s habits.
Katie Skibinski, vice president for digital products at Planned Parenthood, said the data collected on its website is “used only for internal purposes by Planned Parenthood and our affiliates,” and the company doesn’t “sell” data to third parties.
“While we aim to use data to learn how we can be most impactful, at Planned Parenthood, data-driven learning is always thoughtfully executed with respect for patient and user privacy,” Skibinski said. “This means using analytics platforms to collect aggregate data to gather insights and identify trends that help us improve our digital programs.”
Skibinski did not dispute that the organization shares data with third parties, including data brokers.
A Blacklight scan of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast—a localized website specifically for people in the Gulf region, including Texas, where abortion has been essentially outlawed—churned up similar results.
Planned Parenthood is not alone when it comes to nonprofits, some operating in sensitive areas like mental health and addiction, gathering and sharing data on website visitors.
Using our Blacklight tool, The Markup scanned more than 23,000 websites of nonprofit organizations, including those belonging to abortion providers and nonprofit addiction treatment centers. The Markup used the IRS’s nonprofit master file to identify nonprofits that have filed a tax return since 2019 and that the agency categorizes as focusing on areas like mental health and crisis intervention, civil rights, and medical research. We then examined each nonprofit’s website as publicly listed in GuideStar. We found that about 86 percent of them had third-party cookies or tracking network requests. By comparison, when The Markup did a survey of the top 80,000 websites in 2020, we found 87 percent used some type of third-party tracking.
About 11 percent of the 23,856 nonprofit websites we scanned had a Facebook pixel embedded, while 18 percent used the Google Analytics “Remarketing Audiences” feature.
The Markup found that 439 of the nonprofit websites loaded scripts called session recorders, which can monitor visitors’ clicks and keystrokes. Eighty-nine of those were for websites that belonged to nonprofits that the IRS categorizes as primarily focusing on mental health and crisis intervention issues…(More)”.