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Google will automatically delete records of abortion clinic visits

  • July 04, 2022

 abortion clinics visits following the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The new policy is in response to growing alarm that the data Google and other technology companies routinely collect about people’s online activities could be used by authorities in states where abortion is now illegal.

At issue is the “location history” feature. In coming weeks, Google says it will delete records of visits to medical facilities that may be “particularly personal” including counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics and cosmetic surgery clinics.

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“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 said in a blog post Friday.

Other data kept by Google could be used to prosecute people seeking an abortion such as search history.

Privacy watchdogs said the company still isn’t doing enough to protect the data of tens of millions of Americans at a particularly vulnerable moment.

“This is same old, same old,” said University of Washington law professor Ryan Calo.

“In response to a sea change in intimate privacy, Google is pledging certain narrow changes to its practices such as automatically deleting sensitive location data,” Calo said. “But the onus remains fundamentally on the consumer to try to manage their own privacy.”

Google tracks the habits and locations of millions, potentially turning it into a “tool for far-right extremists looking to crack down on people seeking reproductive health care,” according to a letter sent to the company by 42 Democratic members of Congress in May.

The company is legally required to comply with government demands though Google says it pushes back against “overly broad demands from law enforcement” and notifies people to the extent it can when it turns over their data.

Google also said Friday it would make it possible for Fitbit wearable device users who track their periods in the app to delete more than one menstrual log at a time. Privacy advocates have warned people to delete period-tracking apps from their phones.

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