Texas Website for Snitching on Abortion 'Abetters' May Violate Web Company's Privacy Rules

The Texas website for reporting people who break the state's stringent new anti-abortion law itself violates the privacy policies of its domain name registrar, GoDaddy.

The Texas Right to Life website, prolifewhistleblower.com, allows people to leave anonymous tips reporting doctors, clinics or other individuals that may have helped women get an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

However, tech journalist Shoshana Wodinsky noted that the website itself violates the rules of its domain name registrar, GoDaddy. GoDaddy told Newsweek, "Last night we informed prolifewhistleblower.com they have violated GoDaddy's terms of service and have 24 hours to move to a different provider."

GoDaddy's policies say that its registered websites cannot "collect or harvest" information about people without their consent. Its policies also forbid registered sites from doing anything 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."

Texas Right Life website violates GoDaddy privacy
The Texas Right to Life website for reporting people who break Texas' stringent new anti-abortion law may itself violate the privacy policies of GoDaddy, its domain name registrar. In this photo illustration, a woman at a coffee shop accesses a privacy block on her laptop computer. juststock/Getty

Wodinsky wrote, "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 [policy]."

She suggested that people who oppose the Texas Right to Life website report it as "inappropriate content [that] displays personal information" within GoDaddy's "abuse report" section.

Wodinsky is merely the latest person to try and disrupt the website. Since its launch, numerous people have suggested flooding the site with false tips to waste investigators' time.

One activist named Sean Black, who goes by "black_madness21" on the video-sharing website TikTok, created a replicable computer script that enables people to quickly submit false data to the site. In a TikTok video, Black said that his script submitted 300 entries before the site blocked his IP address.

Texas Right to Life's director of media and communication, Kimberlyn Schwartz, confirmed that the website blocks the IP addresses of those who submit false reports.

Schwartz also said that the site has been hit by distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks. DDOS attacks use automated online bots to send multiple access requests to a website in an attempt to overwhelm its traffic capacity and crash it.

The new Texas law empowers private citizens to sue any person who "aids or abets" an abortion. These aiders and abetters could include any healthcare workers, drivers or funders who'd assist a pregnant person with getting an abortion. Any private citizen who successfully sues such an assistant is then entitled to at least a $10,000 reward from the person being sued.

In her dissent, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that Texas legislators likely wrote the law, using private citizens as enforcers, to prevent it from being blocked in court. Usually, people can sue state officers in court to block a law from being enforced.

But the Texas law can only be enforced by private individuals who don't work for the Texas government. As such, that makes it difficult to challenge in federal court, Supreme Court reporter Ian Millhiser wrote in a recent Vox article. While the Supreme Court didn't rule on the law's constitutionality, the court still voted 5-4 to allow it to go into effect.

"The Supreme Court's decision...effectively endorses this method of dodging judicial review," Millhiser wrote.

Update (9/3/2021 1:19 p.m.): This article has been updated to include a statement from GoDaddy.