July 5, 2022 – Google announced that it will work to remove location history data from people who visit abortion sites and other medical facilities.
Legal experts have expressed concerns about electronic data since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and reversed her original view that women have a constitutional right to abortion. For weeks, Google and other tech companies have not responded to questions about data storage practices and compliance with potential law enforcement requests for data on abortion clinics and sites. medical, according to CNBC.
“Today, we’re announcing that if our systems identify that someone has visited one of these locations, we will remove those Location History entries shortly after their visit,” wrote Jen Fitzpatrick, vice president. senior president of core systems and experiences for Google. in a statement posted Friday on the company’s website.
The update will go into effect “in the coming weeks,” she wrote. Location History is a Google Account setting that’s turned off by default, she noted, and those who turn it on can delete parts or all of their data “at any time.”
“Some of the places people visit – including medical facilities like counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centers, addiction treatment centers, weight loss clinics, cosmetic surgery clinics and the like — can be especially personal,” she wrote.
Google’s parent company, Alphabet, owns popular devices and data services like Android, Fitbit, Google Search, and Google Maps. Fitbit users who have chosen to track their menstrual cycles in the app can delete their menstruation logs one at a time, and the company will roll out updates to allow users to delete multiple logs at once, Fitzpatrick said.
“Privacy is important to people, especially around topics like their health,” she wrote. “As these issues apply to healthcare providers, telecommunications companies, banks, technology platforms and many more, we know that privacy cannot depend solely on individual companies or States acting individually.”
Even before the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling became official, lawmakers called on tech companies and the Federal Trade Commission to ensure that the data of those seeking abortion care would be protected if the landmark decision were canceled, CNBC reported. In late May, 42 Democratic lawmakers wrote a letter urging Google to stop collecting and storing certain location data that could be used to identify people seeking abortions.
In Friday’s statement, Google did not clearly state how it would respond to potential requests from law enforcement, CNBC reported. But the company said it would “continue to oppose requests that are overly broad or otherwise legally objectionable.”
“Google has a long history of rejecting overbroad requests from law enforcement, including opposing some requests entirely,” Fitzpatrick wrote. “We consider the privacy and security expectations of people who use our products, and we notify people when we are complying with government requirements, unless we are prohibited from doing so or lives are at stake, such as in an emergency situation.”
In June, Google backed bipartisan legislation called the NDO Fairness Act, which would increase transparency around government data requests and reduce secrecy around non-disclosure orders that prevent service providers from telling customers that their data electronic communications were requested. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill on June 21.
“We are seeing NDOs issued for an increasing number of court orders, warrants and subpoenas from US authorities,” Kent Walker, president of global affairs for Google and Alphabet, wrote in a June 23 statement.
“This means vendors may not notify users until long after compliance, if ever,” he wrote. “And that people don’t have the ability to go to court to challenge disclosure orders.”