Even if you don’t live in Texas, you’ve likely heard about the state’s draconian abortion restrictions that officially went into effect on Wednesday. The so-called “Heartbeat Bill,” aka Senate Bill 8, makes it fully illegal for anyone—friends, family, doctors—across Texas to help women access an abortion in the state after their sixth week of pregnancy.
You might have also seen the digital tipline that’s been set up to snitch on anyone violating the new law. The site was launched about a month ago by Texas Right To Life, a well-funded player in the world of anti-abortion politics.
“Any Texan can bring a lawsuit against an abortionist or someone aiding and abetting an abortion after six weeks,” the website reads. “If these individuals are proved to be violating the law, they have to pay a fine of at least $10,000.” It’s worth noting here that because “aiding and abetting” is such a vague term, others have used the impending law to not only justify going after the doctors or clinicians performing these medical procedures but anyone who helps women get an abortion in any way. This includes driving a friend to the clinic, or lending someone money so they can get an abortion they can’t afford on their own.
Unfortunately, overloading the site with pictures of everyone’s favorite ogre wasn’t enough to knock it from the web, nor were the multiple denial-of-service attacks that slammed the site on the eve before the bill was set to go into action. But there is another route people can take: pleading with the site’s hosting provider. In this case, the registrar is GoDaddy—a company that’s historically known for being kind of terrible all around, but also one with a slew of rules for what its sites can be used for. In the company’s terms of service for users, GoDaddy mandates that its site owners cannot use a GoDaddy-hosted site to:
collect or harvest (or permit anyone else to collect or harvest) any User Content (as defined below) or any non-public or personally identifiable information about another User or any other person or entity without their express prior written consent.
The ToS also states that GoDaddy’s customers cannot use its platform in a manner that “violates the privacy or publicity rights of another User or any other person or entity, or breaches any duty of confidentiality that you owe to another User or any other person or entity.” In either case, a site solely set up to out people who try to help someone attain a sensitive, stigmatized medical procedure probably fall under this domain.
GoDaddy has its own specific tipline set up for users to reach when they see a site falling afoul of the company’s privacy rules: firstname.lastname@example.org. People can also file out an abuse report with the platform, and let GoDaddy know that they’ve come across “content that displays personal information.” While the examples that GoDaddy gives in the form are sites listing people’s social security or credit card numbers, the Texas tipline is a pretty clear privacy violation of a different sort.
Aside from violating the privacy of god knows how many women, along with their friends, family, and doctors, the site also apparently violates the privacy of people submitting tips. A Gizmodo analysis of the webpage for submitting tips found that when these memos are “anonymously” submitted, the site covertly harvests the IP address of whoever submits the tip via a hidden field.