Google Becomes First Company to Speak About Abortion Clinic Visit Related Data Safety

After the United States Supreme Court overturned the Roe V Wade judgement, removing constitutional protections for abortions in the country, several civil rights advocates have been asking one question — how tech companies will ensure online data security. And now, after several days, Google has taken a decision.

The American tech giant, which has been silent like other tech companies since the controversial judgement was released, said that it would begin automatically removing visits to abortion clinics as well as weight loss centres, domestic violence shelters and other potentially sensitive sites from users’ location history in the coming weeks.

In a blog post shared on July 1, Google has claimed that the deletion will take place “soon after” the visit, once its systems have determined that a journey was made to one of the sites.

“Location History is a Google account setting that is off by default, and for those that turn it on, we provide simple controls like auto-delete so users can easily delete parts, or all, of their data at any time,” said Google.

“Some of the places people visit — including medical facilities like counselling centres, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centres, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics, cosmetic surgery clinics, and others — can be particularly personal. Today, we’re announcing that if our systems identify that someone has visited one of these places, we will delete these entries from Location History soon after they visit. This change will take effect in the coming weeks,” the post noted.

It should be noted that following the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse Roe v. Wade and the immediate steps taken by some states to restrict abortions, this change is taking place.

After the Supreme Court decision, concerns were expressed by advocates for abortion rights and civil liberties that there are few federal restrictions on the data that tech companies are allowed to collect and store, making it easier for law enforcement to access potentially incriminating information about a person’s whereabouts, internet searches, and communication history.

Even though for several days major tech giants didn’t make any official announcement on how they will handle users’ personal data, as a result of such mounting worries many US women decided to delete period-tracking apps.

However, now according to the Google blog post, entitled “Protecting people’s privacy on health topics”, the company has stated that if people are using Fitbit’s health tracking feature, an update is on the way that will allow them to erase many menstruation recordings at once.

“For Google Fit and Fitbit, we give users settings and tools to easily access and control their personal data, including the option to change and delete personal information, at any time,” it added.

Additionally, it said: “For example, Fitbit users who have chosen to track their menstrual cycles in the app can currently delete menstruation logs one at a time, and we will be rolling out updates that let users delete multiple logs at once.”

Although Google still keeps a lot of information about your actions on its servers, these privacy modifications are intended to remove specific data that could be used to prosecute someone for seeking medical attention. Google’s post says nothing about search and YouTube histories, which may likewise be used as evidence in investigations.

Regarding the use of users’ data by the officials, Google noted that the company has a long history of resisting overly broad requests from law enforcement, even rejecting certain requests completely.

Legally, Google is required to abide by specific data requests from the government (and could be compelled to turn over logs if they exist) but the company in the blog post said, “We take into account the privacy and security expectations of people using our products, and we notify people when we comply with government demands unless we’re prohibited from doing so or lives are at stake — such as in an emergency situation.”

Furthermore, Google said that it will remain committed to protecting the users “against improper government demands for data”, and it will also continue to oppose demands that are “overly broad or otherwise legally objectionable”.

In order to lessen secrecy and promote transparency surrounding government data requests, the tech giant will also keep supporting bipartisan legislation, like the NDO Fairness Act, which was recently enacted by the House of Representatives, the post noted.

However, apart from Google, no other company in the US has revealed their plans regarding data sharing and data safety at this crucial moment and it is a concern because Google is not the only company which has been keeping a track of people or where their smartphones have been for the whole day.