Google Says It Will Delete Location Data When Users Visit Abortion Clinics
SAN FRANCISCO — Google said on Friday that it would delete abortion clinic visits from the location history of its users, in the company’s first effort to address how it will handle sensitive data in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.
The location data change will take place in the coming weeks, Jen Fitzpatrick, a Google senior vice president, wrote in a blog post. The policy will also apply to trips to fertility clinics, domestic violence shelters, addiction treatment facilities and other sensitive locations.
Google, which holds reams of intimate information about its billions of users, has come under scrutiny since the Supreme Court’s decision last week to strike down Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion after almost 50 years. Some supporters of reproductive rights have pushed people to delete apps that track their menstrual cycles online, while experts said search and location data from companies like Google are more likely to be used as evidence.
The overturning of Roe has more broadly renewed questions about how much data and digital trails people have produced, which could be used to surveil or target those who try and get an abortion. In states that allow bans or other limits on abortion, law enforcement is expected to be focused on taking action against medical providers, but information about individuals — including location data, payments data and more — is not hard to obtain through data brokers and other sources.
The Alphabet Workers Union, a group representing more than 800 people who work for Google’s parent company, Alphabet, demanded on Tuesday that the search giant delete any personal data that law enforcement could try to use to prosecute those who are getting abortions.
With Friday’s announcement, while Google will delete some location data, it did not commit to automatically deleting search records about abortions, which may also become sought after. Users must individually opt to delete their search history.
Google has been sued by the state of Texas, accused of continuing to track users even when they use the Chrome web browsers’ supposedly private Incognito Mode — which may further erode confidence that the company will purge all data when people try to browse privately.
Google also made no commitments about changing the way it handles government data requests.
“We remain committed to protecting our users against improper government demands for data, and we will continue to oppose demands that are overly broad or otherwise legally objectionable,” Ms. Fitzpatrick wrote.
The company also said that users will soon be able to more quickly delete multiple menstruation logs stored on Fitbit, a health-tracking company owned by Google, rather than one at a time. The company also reminded users to employ existing settings options on Google to improve their online privacy.