Privacy, Application security, Data Security, Endpoint/Device Security

Google to delete sensitive medical locations from user history after Roe struck down

The Google logo is displayed on a Nexus 5X phone during a Google media event Sept. 29, 2015, in San Francisco. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Google will delete sensitive location data from user history, the search giant announced after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States. Pictured: The Google logo is displayed on a Nexus 5X phone during a Google media event Sept. 29, 2015, in San Francisco. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Google announced it will immediately delete location history when users visit sensitive medical facilities like abortion clinics following the overturn of Roe v. Wade last month. 

"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,” Jen Fitzpatrick, senior vice president of core systems and experiences at Google, wrote in a July 1 blog post

Google mentioned that visits of places like counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics, and cosmetic surgery clinics are personal. Thus, the company will implement a new feature that takes effect in the coming weeks to automatically delete these records. 

Google also noted that it provides settings and tools for Google Fit and Fitbit users to control their personal data.

“For example, Fitbit users who have chosen to track their menstrual cycles in the app can currently delete menstruation logs one at a time, and we will be rolling out updates that let users delete multiple logs at once,” the post reads. 

The health privacy of users has come under scrutiny following the fall of Roe v. Wade, with many patients worried that mobile tracking and apps may disclose their personal data to third parties. Four Democratic lawmakers called the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Google and Apple’s “unfair and deceptive” practices in collecting and selling users’ data right after the repeal of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court. 

“The FTC should investigate Apple and Google’s role in transforming online advertising into an intense system of surveillance that incentivises and facilitates the unrestrained collected and constant sale of Americans’ personal data,” said the letter signed by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.; and Rep. Sara Jacobs, D., Calif., according to the Wall Street Journal

Even prior to the overturn of Roe v. Wade, a group of 40 Democrats demanded Google CEO Sundar Pichai in a letter to stop gathering and storing users’ location data. The concern is that the information could be used by parties seeking to criminalize abortion. 

Google did not respond directly to Democratic lawmakers’ request in its blog post, but noted that it has “long advocated for a comprehensive and nationwide U.S. privacy law that guarantees protections for everyone” and is “pleased to see recent progress in Congress.” 

Google also emphasized in the post that privacy protections should be a collective effort and “cannot be solely up to individual companies or states acting individually.”

Menghan Xiao

Menghan Xiao is a cybersecurity reporter at SC Media, covering software supply chain security, workforce/business, and threat intelligence. Before SC Media, Xiao studied journalism at Northwestern University, where she received a merit-based scholarship from Medill and Jack Modzelewski Scholarship Fund.

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