Image Source: HRD America
Over 20 Congressional Democrats sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai in mid-June, one week before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. They argued that this could endanger women’s health and wanted the business to stop searches for abortion clinics from producing results and advertisements that point users in the direction of places that oppose the practice.
The following month, Pichai received a letter urging the opposition from 17 Republican attorneys general. They claimed that any action taken at the request of Democratic authorities to censor pro-life search results “would violate the most fundamental precept of the American marketplace of ideas” and “actively injure women seeking critical assistance.”
The conflicting responses revealed a fresh political hot spot for Google. Concerns from legislators about the internet giant’s extensive reach and wealth of customer data have existed for a long time. However, in the wake of Roe v. Wade’s overturn, Google has likely received more scrutiny than any of its internet rivals for the potential effects that its user data and platforms may have on people seeking abortions.
Numerous Democratic lawmakers complained in a letter to Google in May, amid rumors that Roe would be overturned, that the company’s practice of gathering and storing enormous quantities of geolocation data from cellphones “will allow it to become a tool for far-right extremists looking to crack down on people seeking reproductive health care.” Additionally, on June 24, the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a different group of US senators sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission requesting that it look into Google and Apple’s ad tracking policies because they may damage those seeking abortions.
As a result of the uproar, Google declared in July that it would begin wiping user location records for trips to places like fertility clinics and abortion clinics, among other places. Additionally, Google announced that it would give Fitbit customers the choice to mass-delete their period data. (Users had the option to remove period-tracking data from the Google-owned fitness tracker record by record.)
However, even after making some policy changes, Google is still under pressure from Democrats, privacy advocates, and even some of its employees to do more to protect women seeking abortions. Additionally, Republicans, who are anticipated to win back control of the House in this year’s midterm elections, may also criticize the measures Google takes.
Democratic senator from New Jersey Cory Booker, who also signed a letter to the FTC and a letter to President Joe Biden in June urging him to sign an executive order protecting reproductive rights, applauded the move but said Google still has work to do. In a statement made available to CNN Business, Booker said: “This is a positive starting step and firms like Google must continue to review how their data might be used to target individuals seeking abortions and provide privacy protections against prosecution.”
Hundreds more employees at Google and parent firm Alphabet, who make up the Alphabet Workers Union, are also dissatisfied with their jobs.
Google referred CNN business to its blog post from last month, where it announced the change to location history in response to requests for comment on this story. Jen Fitzpatrick, a senior Google official, underlined the significance of privacy for health-related data in that post, stating that “protecting our users’ privacy and securing their data is key to Google’s work.”
Read Also: Texas court blocks pre Roe v. Wade ban
Google is accused of breach
Some privacy experts have voiced concerns about how Google and other businesses may cooperate with law enforcement. This concern has arguably only grown more pressing in light of this week’s report that police obtained Facebook messages between a Nebraska mother and her teenage daughter that they claim to provide proof of illegal self-managed medication abortion.
Some have highlighted Google’s contribution in assisting law enforcement with geofence warrant requests, which ask internet service providers to provide a list of devices inside a specific area at a specific time. According to Google’s most recent transparency report, the number of geofence warrants submitted by US police departments increased from 982 in 2018 to 11,554 in 2020, indicating that such warrants are becoming more common as a tool for law enforcement to investigate a variety of alleged offenses.
For its part, Google claims that it occasionally asks for less information or chooses to offer it. Thoughts about Google and some of its competitors are at the heart of privacy advocates’ underlying anxiety.