Faced with pressure from civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers, Google now says it will shed data showing that people visited abortion clinics or other “particularly personal” locations.
“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 Senior Vice President Jen Fitzpatrick wrote late Friday in a blog post. “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 new policy will take effect in several weeks.
Google collects data about signed-in users' locations when they activate the “Location History” setting.
The company tells users that turning on the setting can result in “a number of benefits across Google products and services,” such as personalized maps, recommendations based on places visited, help finding a phone, real-time traffic updates about a commute, and “more useful” ads.
Soon after news leaked that the Supreme Court was poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, civil rights groups and dozens of Democratic lawmakers urged Google to stop storing location data that could be used to prosecute abortion seekers.
“If abortion is made illegal by the far-right Supreme Court and Republican lawmakers, it is inevitable that right-wing prosecutors will obtain legal warrants to hunt down, prosecute and jail women for obtaining critical reproductive health care,” Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-California) and 40 other Democratic lawmakers said in a letter sent in May to CEO Sundar Pichai. “The only way to protect your customers’ location data from such outrageous government surveillance is to not keep it in the first place.”
Location data is not the only information that could be used to prosecute abortion seekers. Google also retains other data, including people's search queries, that can be obtained by law-enforcement authorities.