Google will auto-delete entries from a person’s location history if it detects a visit to an abortion clinic. The firm said on Friday that it would automatically delete a person’s location history. That is, if it finds that they went to an abortion clinic.
This is to protect their privacy. This is also part of an update to its health standards to protect people who want abortions. Also, other sensitive medical services following America’s abortion laws being overturned by the US Supreme Court.
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. This is even though Google gives users the option to delete their own data.
Jen Fitzpatrick, senior vice president of core systems and engagement at Google said, “We’re committed to ensuring robust privacy protections for people who use our services. We will continue to seek innovative methods to reinforce and improve these protections.”
Google will auto-delete entries from a person’s location history if it detects a visit to an abortion clinic
“We’re announcing today that we will quickly remove certain records from Location History. That is, 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. This is to “give customers more information about how apps get, share and protect their data.”
The commitment comes as a result of mounting pressure on big tech. That is, for them 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.
Supreme Court Overturning Roe Wade
The US Supreme Court’s decision overturns nearly 50 years of legal precedent. That is, 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. That is, inquiries from the press and lawmakers about their data storage and methods. Also, on 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.
Lawmakers asked Google and the Federal Trade Commission to make sure that patient information would be safe. That is, if the historic decision was overturned before the final decision was made.
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. That is, requests for access to customer data records as part of misconduct investigations.
Law enforcement made approximately 150,000 requests for user data in the first half of 2021. According to its internal transparency report, the firm complied 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. Other parties may also use private information as criminal evidence, such as Google searches on abortion.
Privacy experts are concerned that law enforcement will force app producers to turn over user data. That is, data 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. This is 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. This 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. This is because it deletes location data automatically when users visit abortion clinics.
Manually Remove the Location History
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 end-to-end encryption.