Google announced Friday that it plans to delete location-history data for users who visit an abortion clinic or other "particularly personal" locations after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
"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," Jen Fitzpatrick, a senior Google executive, wrote in a blog post.
"Some of the places people visit - including medical facilities like counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics, cosmetic surgery clinics, and others - can be particularly personal," she added. "If our systems identify that someone has visited one of these places, we will delete these entries from Location History soon after they visit."
Fitzpatrick said the location history update would take effect "in the coming weeks."
The move comes after more than 40 Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai in May asking the company to stop collecting and storing "unnecessary" location data. The lawmakers expressed concern that prosecutors could use that data to bring criminal charges against women who have abortions after a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion suggested at the time that the Court was poised to overturn Roe.
"We believe that abortion is health care. We will fight tooth and nail to ensure that it remains recognized as a fundamental right, and that all people in the United States have control over their own bodies," wrote the group, which also included Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
"That said, we are concerned that, in a world in which abortion could be made illegal, Google's current practice of collecting and retaining extensive records of cell phone location data will allow it to become a tool for far-right extremists looking to crack down on people seeking reproductive health care," the letter added.
The group expressed concern that geofence warrants, in which law enforcement agencies ask tech companies to turn over all data on devices that have passed through a certain area during a specific timeframe, could be used to identify women seeking or helping with an abortion.
Google received more than 10,000 geofence warrants in 2020, according to the lawmakers. The warrants have been used to help identify and charge January 6 Capitol rioters, as well as to track Black Lives Matter protesters and to investigate anything from bank robberies to break-ins.
"If abortion is made illegal by the far-right Supreme Court and Republican lawmakers, it is inevitable that right-wing prosecutors will obtain legal warrants to hunt down, prosecute and jail women for obtaining critical reproductive health care," the lawmakers wrote in May, before Roe was overturned. "The only way to protect your customers' location data from such outrageous government surveillance is to not keep it in the first place."
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