Google must protect the privacy of abortion patients


Policy

Google, in particular, stores “historic location information about hundreds of millions of smartphone users.”

A woman walks under a Google sign on the campus in Mountain View, California, September 24, 2019. More than 40 Democratic members of Congress are calling on Google to stop what they see as the unnecessary collection and retention of data from location of people. . They fear it could be used to identify women seeking abortions. The group of Democrats on Tuesday, May 24, 2022 sent a letter to the CEO of Google’s parent company saying that if abortion becomes illegal in the United States, cellphone location data collected and retained by the company could be used by far-right extremists who seek to crack down on women seeking reproductive health care. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File

More than 40 Democratic members of Congress are calling on Google to end what they see as the unnecessary collection and retention of people’s location data, arguing that this information could be used to identify women seeking abortions.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., lawmakers fear that if abortion becomes illegal in the United States, the company’s “current practice of collecting and retaining Detailed records of cellphone location data allow it to become a tool for far-right extremists seeking to crack down on people seeking reproductive health care.

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If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion — as a draft opinion suggests, that could be the case in the coming weeks — pregnancies could be monitored and data shared with the police or sold to vigilantes, privacy experts fear.

Google, in particular, stores “historic location information about hundreds of millions of smartphone users,” the letter notes, “which it routinely shares with government agencies.”

Alphabet representatives did not immediately respond to a message for comment. Tech companies have largely tried to stay out of the abortion debate. Meta Platforms, which owns Facebook, reportedly reminded employees that they were prohibited from discussing abortion in workplace communication channels. Meta did not respond to a request for comment.

In their letter, the Democrats, led by Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, call on Google to stop collecting and keeping records of their customers’ every move.

Law enforcement officials routinely obtain court orders compelling Google to provide location information of its customers, the letter notes. This includes “geofence” commands, which are requests for Google to provide data about everyone who was near a specific location at a specific time.

Google received 11,554 geofencing mandates in 2020, according to the company. He did not specify how many of them he complied with.



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