Google Deletes Location Data Of Users Visiting Abortion Clinics After Roe V. Wade

Mason Joseph Zimmer
outside view of Google's headquarters known as the Googleplex in Mountain View, California
Wikimedia Commons | The Pancake of Heaven!

Google's location services wing is pledging to wipe away any location data indicating that users visited an abortion clinic as a response to Roe V. Wade being overturned.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial decision to reverse Roe V. Wade and let each state determine its own abortion policies hasn't been without its supporters, it's come as devastating news to millions of Americans.

For the ruling's critics, the reversal of Roe V. Wade empowers states to violate women's bodily autonomy and worsen legal inequality between men and women. But while the decision has inspired widespread protests both online and in person, it's hard for its detractors not to feel powerless in the wake of this legal sea change that uproots 50 years of precedent.

Although it's hard to say what any one person can do about the ruling, Google has recently declared its intent to shield users from its consequences as much as possible.

On July 1, Google senior vice president of core systems Jen Fitzpatrick released a an official blog post detailing its initiatives for user privacy.

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In this post, she mentioned that Google has long pushed for a comprehensive U.S. privacy law that applies nationwide and "guarantees protections for everyone."

But while she noted that such an idea has made some recent progress in Congress, she also said, "We haven’t waited for a law to take action."

And one example of how they're doing that is particularly relevant in the wake of the Roe V. Wade reversal.

outside view of Google's headquarters known as the Googleplex in Mountain View, California
Wikimedia Commons | The Pancake of Heaven!

As People reported, Fitzpatrick pledged that Google would delete the location data of users that its systems tracked as visiting abortion clinics.

As Fitzpatrick herself put it, "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."

It's also worth noting that it's not just abortion clinics that fall under the umbrella of "particularly personal" information that Google is looking to protect.

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Because while that aspect of their policy seems primed to prevent legal troubles for users in states enacting abortion bans, there are clear reasons why users may not want the world to know they've been visiting other locations as well.

As such, Fitzpatrick's blog post mentioned that Google will also delete location data that indicates its users have visited domestic violence shelters, counselling centers, fertility treatment clinics, weight loss centers, addiction treatment facilities, cosmetic surgeons, and other unspecified but similarly personal places.

In the post, Fitzpatrick added that Google has a long history of pushing back against "overly broad" demands from law enforcement that sometimes includes refusing them entirely.

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But while People noted that the post left it unclear as to how Google intends to respond to information requests from law enforcers in the wake of Roe V. Wade's overturning, Fitzpatrick addressed the matter in more general terms.

In her words, "We will continue to oppose demands that are overly broad or otherwise legally objectionable."

h/t: The Keyword, People