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Google will start removing abortion clinic visits from users’ location history

·Senior Editor
·2 min read
SOPA Images via Getty Images

Amid data privacy concerns raised by the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, Google says it will remove abortion clinics and other facilities from users’ location history. Since the ruling, Google and other tech giants had largely remained silent about how they would handle requests for data about users in abortion-related investigations. Privacy experts have flagged the vast amounts of data collected by Google and other platforms as ripe for abuse by law enforcement and anti-abortion groups.

In a new blog post, Google states that it will attempt to remove locations from users’ location histories “soon after they visit.” The company was vague about exactly how it would identify these locations, or how long the removals would take. The company said the same process would also apply to visits to other types of health facilities.

“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,” Google writes. “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.”

The company also said that Fitbit would be updating its app so users can bulk-delete their menstrual tracking information from the service. Other period tracking apps have also vowed to add new privacy and security features in recent days as concerns mount that cycle tracking apps could become a target for law enforcement investigations.

Google also addressed concerns about law enforcement’s broad requests for location data — an issue lawmakers have also urged the company to address. The company reiterated existing policies, including its practice of notifying users when their data has been requested, and pointed to its transparency reports that track such demands. The company also claimed it has a “long track record of pushing back on overly broad demands” and said it would “continue to oppose demands that are overly broad or otherwise legally objectionable.”

While the changes attempt to address one set of concerns that have been raised by privacy experts and activists, they won’t prevent the possibility users’ online or offline activities could be used against them in an abortion-related investigation. Google made no mention of whether it would remove abortion related queries from user's search history or YouTube accounts, for example. Browsing history and other data is also routinely shared to Facebook and other advertisers, and data brokers are still easily able to obtain data about users’ past whereabouts.