After weeks of silence on the subject, Google announced on Friday that users’ location data would be automatically deleted when visiting a clinic specializing in abortions. “If our systems identify that a person has visited an establishment (sensitive)we will delete these location history entries shortly after they are visited”said Jen Fitzpatrick, a vice president of the California group, in a press release.
This decision comes a week after the Supreme Court of the United States revoked the federal right to voluntary termination of pregnancy (abortion). Elected Democrats and human rights groups fear that the personal information of women who have had abortions, or individuals who may have helped them, will be used against them by prosecutors in conservative states that have banned abortion. They have therefore been calling for weeks on major technology platforms to no longer store so much personal data, from online research on abortion to travel on applications like Google Maps. But Google, Meta (Facebook, Instagram) and Apple have been very quiet so far.
Jen Fitzpatrick reminds that location history is turned off by default and users can control what is kept or not. Regarding the requests of the authorities, she also assures that Google is used to “repel when they are too extensive”. “We take into account the privacy and security expectations of people who use our products and notify them when we comply with government requests, unless lives are at stake”, she adds. Among the sensitive establishments affected by Friday’s decision, Google includes shelters for domestic violence, clinics specializing in weight loss and detoxification centers.
Some laws passed even before the Supreme Court ruling, such as in Texas in September, encourage ordinary citizens to sue women suspected of having abortions or those who helped them – even an Uber driver who allegedly took them at the clinic, for example. Google’s technologies therefore risk becoming “tools for extremists who want to suppress people seeking reproductive health care”wrote 42 American elected officials in an open letter, addressed at the end of May to the leader of Google Sundar Pichai. “Because Google keeps information about the geographic location of hundreds of millions of smartphone users, which it regularly shares with government agencies”they detailed.