January 29, 2023

SAN FRANCISCO — Google said Friday it will remove abortion clinic visits from its users’ location histories, the company’s first effort to address how sensitive data is handled since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Google SVP Jen Fitzpatrick wrote in a post that location data changes will happen in the coming weeks blog post. This policy will also apply to travel to fertility clinics, domestic violence shelters, drug rehab centers and other sensitive locations.

Google, which holds a wealth of private information about its billions of users, has been under scrutiny since last week’s Supreme Court decision to dismiss Roe v. Wade, which removed the constitutional right to abortion after nearly 50 years. Some reproductive rights advocates are urging people to remove apps that track menstrual cycles online, while experts say search and location data from companies such as Google are more likely to be used as evidence.

Roe’s overthrow raises broader questions about how much data and digital trajectories people are generating that could be used to spy on or target those trying to get abortions. In states that allow bans or other restrictions on abortion, law enforcement is expected to focus on taking action against healthcare providers, but obtaining personal information (including location data, payment data, etc.) through data brokers and other sources is not difficult.

The Alphabet workers’ union, which represents more than 800 employees of Google parent Alphabet, on Tuesday demanded that the search giant delete any personal data that law enforcement might try to use to prosecute abortionists.

With Friday’s announcement, while Google will delete some location data, it’s not promising to automatically delete searches related to abortion, which could also gain traction. Users must individually choose to delete their search history.

Google has been sued by the state of Texas, alleging it continues to track users even when they use the Chrome web browser’s so-called private incognito mode — which could further undermine confidence that the company will wipe out all data when people try to browse privately .

Google has also not committed to changing the way it handles government data requests.

“We remain committed to protecting our users from inappropriate government requests for data, and we will continue to oppose requests that are overly broad or legally objectionable,” Ms Fitzpatrick wrote.

The company also said that users will soon be able to delete multiple menstrual logs stored on Fitbit, the health-tracking company owned by Google, more quickly, rather than one at a time. The company also reminded users to use Google’s existing settings options to improve their online privacy.

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