After weeks of silence on the subject, Google announced on Friday that it would automatically delete users’ location data when they visit a clinic specializing in abortion.
• Also read: New York wants to enshrine the right to abortion and contraception in its constitution
• Also read: “We’re going on the offensive,” say US abortion advocates
“If our systems determine that an individual has visited a (sensitive) facility, we will delete those entries from Site History shortly after their visit,” Jen Fitzpatrick, vice president of the California group, said in a statement.
This decision comes a week after the United States Supreme Court overturned federal law on voluntary termination of pregnancy (abortion).
Elected Democrats and human rights groups fear that the personal information of women who have had abortions, or people who allegedly helped them, will be used against them by prosecutors in conservative states that have banned abortions.
They have therefore been calling for weeks on major technology platforms to stop storing so much personal data, from online research on abortion to travel in applications such as 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 saved or not.
Regarding requests from authorities, she also assures that Google has a habit of “shutting them down if they are too large”.
“We consider the privacy and security expectations of people who use our products, and we notify them when we comply with government requests, unless lives are at stake,” she adds.
Sensitive facilities affected by Friday’s decision include domestic violence shelters, weight-loss clinics and detox centers.
Some laws, passed even before the Supreme Court ruled, such as in Texas in September, encourage ordinary people to sue women suspected of having an abortion or those who helped them – for example, even an Uber driver, who allegedly brought her to the clinic.
Google’s technologies are therefore in danger of becoming “tools for extremists who want to suppress people who seek reproductive health care,” wrote 42 American elected representatives in an open letter addressed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai at the end of May.
“Because Google stores information about the geographic location of hundreds of millions of smartphone users, which it regularly shares with government agencies,” they said.