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Google says it will delete location history data of users visiting abortion clinics, drug treatment centers, and domestic violence shelters

Reproductive rights activists hold signs in New York City.

ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images

  • In a Friday blog post, Google unveiled new data policies to protect users’ privacy on health topics. 
  • The tech giant says it will delete location data if users visit abortion clinics and drug treatment centers.
  • Tech companies have faced mounting pressure to address data privacy concerns since the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

In a Friday blog post, Google unveiled new policies intended to protect users’ privacy when they visit “sensitive” health-related locations, including abortion clinics and domestic violence shelters. 

The announcement comes as tech companies face mounting pressure to address data privacy concerns since the overturning of Roe v. Wade. 

“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’s Senior Vice President of Core Systems and Engagement, Jen Fitzpatrick, wrote in the post. “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. This change will take effect in the coming weeks.”

Google will also update its app store protocols about data privacy, “to give people more information about how apps collect, share, and secure their data.”

The tech giant also said it will “continue to oppose” overly broad law enforcement demands for user data. According to the company’s internal transparency report, it received nearly 150,000 requests for user data by law enforcement in the first half of 2021 and granted information in 78% of cases, a higher percentage than it has historically granted since the data began being tracked in 2010. 

Privacy experts have voiced concerns in recent weeks over the potential impact the overturning of Roe v. Wade may have on data surveillance. Users’ search histories, as well as text messages and location data, have already been used in cases in Mississippi and Indiana to prosecute women for their abortions and some experts expect such cases to only get worse. 

“What companies should be thinking about right now is that they gather a tremendous amount of data about people’s everyday lives, which could and is already being used against them in this context. And that includes location data, health data, photos, communications, so there’s a lot of data to take into account,” Eva Galperin, the director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Insider. 

“And given that companies move slowly, and that it is very difficult to build policies on the fly, I think it’s very important for companies to take the time to look into the future and to think about the ways in which the data that they gather can be used to target people doing abortion support and people who are seeking abortions.”

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