Google removes abortion clinic visits from users’ location data

Google said Friday that it will erase users’ location data when they visit abortion clinics, domestic violence shelters or other such facilities where privacy is particularly important.

In a blog postJen Fitzpatrick, a senior vice president at Google, said the company would work to remove such places from users’ location data “shortly after they visit such places.”

“Protecting our users’ privacy and securing their data is at the heart of Google’s work,” Fitzpatrick noted.

“Some of the places people visit — including medical facilities such as counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics, cosmetic surgery clinics, and others — can be particularly personal.”

She continued, “If our systems determine that someone has visited one of these places, we will remove these entries from Location History soon after their visit.”

According to Fitzpatrick, the change will take effect in the coming weeks.

However, she did not disclose how the company would detect such visits or whether any data associated with such visits would be removed from its servers.

This change comes as a direct result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, depriving women in the United States of the guaranteed constitutional right to access abortion services.

The decision has sparked large demonstrations across the country and led to a ban or severe restriction on the procedure in a dozen different states in the US.

Since the verdict, Google and other tech companies have largely kept quiet about how they will respond to requests for data about users in abortion-related investigations.

Privacy experts have expressed concern that the large amounts of data collected by Google and other platforms may be used inappropriately by government agencies and anti-abortion groups.

Even before the verdict was made public, lawmakers demanded that Google take precautions to protect the personal information of people who use the Internet to seek medical help.

In May, a group of 42 Democratic members of Congress urged Google CEO Sundar Pichai stop collecting and saving unnecessary or non-aggregated location data that can be used by “far-right extremists” and prosecutors to identify and target people who have had abortions.

Last month, a group of American politicians urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Apple and Google to collect and sell customer personal information without their consent.

In her blog post on Friday, Fitzpatrick confirmed policies that Google already has, such as the practice of notifying users when their data has been requested by government agencies.

She also highlighted Google’s transparency reports that track such requests.

“Google has a long track record of curbing overly broad law enforcement demands, including completely opposing some demands,” she wrote.

Fitzpatrick’s post did not address how the company would respond to questions from legal authorities. Instead, the company said it would “continue to oppose claims that are too broad or otherwise legally objectionable.”

In addition, Google said Fitbit will update its app to allow users to bulk clear their menstrual tracking information from the service.

While the purpose of all of these privacy changes is to remove certain data from Google’s servers that could be used to prosecute individuals for seeking care, the company continues to store a lot of other information about users’ activities.

Privacy experts say search and YouTube histories can still be used as evidence in investigations, but Google’s post makes no mention of these potential sources of evidence.

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