Google says it will erase U.S. user data about trips to abortion clinics
New privacy protections come amid concerns over prosecutions for abortion procedures
Google will automatically purge information about users who visit abortion clinics or other places that could trigger legal problems now that the U.S. Supreme Court has opened the door for states to ban the termination of pregnancies.
The company behind the internet's dominant search engine and the Android software that powers most of the world's smartphones outlined the new privacy protections in a Friday blog post.
Besides automatically deleting visits to abortion clinics, Google also cited counselling centres, fertility centres, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics and cosmetic surgery clinics as other destinations that will be erased from users' location histories. Users have always had the option to edit their location histories on their own, but Google will proactively do it for them as an added level of protection.
"We're committed to delivering robust privacy protections for people who use our products, and we will continue to look for new ways to strengthen and improve these protections," Jen Fitzpatrick, a Google senior vice president, wrote in the blog post.
A Google spokesperson did not immediately answer questions from Reuters about how the company would identify such visits or whether all related data would be wiped from its servers.
The company's pledge comes amid escalating pressure on Google and other Big Tech companies to do more to shield the troves of sensitive personal information through their digital services and products from government authorities and other outsiders.
The calls for more stringent privacy controls were triggered by the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that secured constitutional protections for abortion. That reversal could make abortion illegal in more than a dozen states, raising the spectre that records about people's location, texts, searches and emails could be used in prosecutions for abortion procedures or even for medical care sought in a miscarriage.
Like other technology companies, Google each year receives thousands of government demands for users' digital records as part of misconduct investigations. Google says it pushes back against search warrants and other demands that are overly broad or appear to be baseless.
With a file from Reuters