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Google will auto-delete entries from a person’s location history if it detects a visit to an abortion clinic

Google will auto-delete entries from a person’s location history if it detects a visit to an abortion clinic
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Google said on Friday that it will automatically delete a person’s location history if it finds that they went to an abortion clinic.

This is to protect their privacy and is part of an update to its health standards to protect people who want abortions or other sensitive medical services following America’s abortion laws being overturned by the US Supreme Court.

Even though Google gives users the option to delete their own data, the company says that if their systems find that someone has visited an abortion clinic, a counseling center, a domestic violence shelter or other places that can be very personal, the location history will be deleted automatically after the appointment.

Google detailed its updated privacy policy in a blog post on Friday that covers “sensitive” health-related issues like domestic abuse shelters and abortion clinics. Users who visit abortion clinics will have their location information automatically deleted by Google.

Jen Fitzpatrick, senior vice president of core systems and engagement at Google stated, “We’re committed to ensuring robust privacy protections for people who use our services, and we will continue to seek innovative methods to reinforce and improve these protections.”

Among visits to abortion clinics, Google said that visits to counseling offices, fertility clinics, drug rehab centers, weight loss centers and cosmetic surgery offices would also be automatically removed from users’ location records.

“We’re announcing today that we will quickly remove certain records from Location History if our systems detect that someone has visited one of these locations.” In the upcoming weeks, this modification will go into effect,” Fitzpatrick added.

Google will also change its app store privacy policies to “give customers more information about how apps get, share and protect their data.”

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The commitment comes as a result of mounting pressure on big tech to take additional steps to protect the vast amounts of sensitive personal information made available through their digital services and products from outsiders and government authorities.

The US Supreme Court’s decision overturned nearly 50 years of legal precedent by overturning its first opinion that women have a constitutional right to abortion.

For weeks, Google and other tech firms have declined to respond to inquiries from the press and lawmakers about their data storage and methods, as well as how they will handle any conceivable requests from law enforcement.

In light of the verdict, Google, which provided tools for its own employees in an email to staff has now come under fire for its search results in addition to data privacy.

Before t he final decision was made, lawmakers asked Google and the Federal Trade Commission to make sure that patient information would be safe if the historic decision was overturned.

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In a letter sent to Google CEO Sundar Pichai in May, a group of 42 Democratic legislators requested he stop gathering and holding non-aggregated location data that could be used to identify people seeking abortions.

Google didn’t address how it would respond to any demands from law enforcement in its post on Friday. The company vowed to “continue to reject demands that are excessively broad or otherwise legally unacceptable” in place of this.

Much like other tech firms, Google receives thousands of requests from the government each year for access to customer data records as part of misconduct investigations.

According to its internal transparency report, law enforcement made approximately 150,000 requests for user data in the first half of 2021, with the firm complying in 78 percent of the cases.

Google has changed its policy in an effort to allay worries that state anti-abortion laws could encourage prosecutors and other parties to use private information, such as Google searches on abortion as criminal evidence.

Privacy experts are concerned that law enforcement will force app producers to turn over user data, such as that from a menstrual-tracking app that could indicate an abortion has occurred.

Some US senators asked Apple and Google to stop collecting app data that could identify abortion seekers because of concern that data miners could siphon off data to give to prosecutors or vigilantes.

Although Google doesn’t cite these instances as the reason for this new policy, its blog post does highlight how users can see what information is collected and shared by apps in the Google Play Store and serves as a reminder that Google doesn’t always abide by requests for user data from law enforcement.

It’s conceivable that Google wouldn’t be able to turn over location data to law enforcement even if ordered to do so because it deletes location data automatically when users visit abortion clinics.

By following Google’s instructions, users can manually remove their Location History. It should be noted that disabling Location History does not erase prior activities; instead, manual deletion is required.

Other Google products and services such as Search and Maps might still record your location information even after you switch off Location History.

According to Patrick McGee of the Financial Times, Apple’s Maps app takes a different approach to privacy dubbed “Location Fuzzing,” whereby 24 hours after a location search, Maps changes it to a less precise one.

Additionally, Apple does not keep track of searches made or locations visited and each time you launch the Maps app, a new randomly generated ID is made and associated with the data that the app has collected while in use.

All personal location information, including Significant Locations that is sent between devices has an end-to-end encryption.

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