SAN FRANCISCO — Google said Friday it will remove abortion clinic visits from its users’ location history, in the company’s first attempt to address how it handles sensitive data under the Supreme Court’s Roe v. v. Wade.
The change to location data is coming in the coming weeks, Jen Fitzpatrick, Google’s senior vice president, wrote in a blog post. The policy will also apply to trips to fertility clinics, domestic violence shelters, drug addiction treatment facilities and other sensitive locations.
Google, which holds vast amounts of intimate information about its billions of users, has been in the spotlight since last week’s Supreme Court decision to strike down Roe v. Wade, which struck down the constitutional right to abortion nearly 50 years later. Some reproductive rights advocates are urging people to delete apps that track their menstrual cycles online, while experts say search and location data from companies like Google will be more likely to be used as evidence.
The Roester coup has rekindled questions more broadly about how much data and digital trails people have created that could be used for surveillance or for those seeking abortions. In states with abortion bans or other restrictions, law enforcement agencies are expected to focus on taking action against medical providers, but information about individuals—including location data, payment data, and more—is not difficult to obtain through data brokers and other sources. .
The Alphabet Workers Union, a group that represents more than 800 people who work at Google’s parent company, Alphabet, on Tuesday demanded that the search giant delete any personal data that law enforcement could try to use to prosecute those who perform abortions.
With Friday’s announcement, while Google will delete some location data, it didn’t commit to automatically deleting search records about abortions, which could also become popular. Users must individually choose to delete their search history.
Google has been sued by the state of Texas, accusing it of tracking users even when they use the Chrome browser’s supposedly private incognito mode — which could further erode confidence that the company will clean up all data when people try to browse privately.
Google has also made no commitment to change the way it processes government data requests.
“We remain committed to protecting our users’ data from unreasonable government requests, and we will continue to oppose requests that are overbroad or otherwise legally objectionable,” Ms. Fitzpatrick wrote.
The company also said that users will soon be able to more quickly delete multiple menstrual logs stored on Fitbit, the Google-owned health tracking company, rather than a single one. The company also reminded users to use the settings options in Google to improve their online privacy.