How Google came under pressure from all sides after Roe’s disappearance


The following month, 17 Republican attorneys general wrote a letter to Pichai demanding otherwise. They argued that any move to suppress pro-life search results at the behest of Democratic officials would “violate the most fundamental principle of the American marketplace of ideas” and “actively harm women seeking essential help.”

The dueling reactions highlighted a new political hot spot for Google. The tech giant has long faced concerns from lawmakers over its vast reach and wealth of user data. But in the wake of Roe’s demise, Google, perhaps more than any of its tech peers, has come under renewed scrutiny of how its data and platforms perform. users could have an impact on abortion seekers.

In May, amid reports that Roe would be overthrown, dozens of Democratic lawmakers wrote to Google saying the company’s practice of collecting and storing vast troves of geolocation data from cellphones “will allow it to become a tool for far-right extremists who seek to crack down on people seeking reproductive health care.” And on June 24, the same day the Supreme Court struck down Roe, another group of U.S. lawmakers wrote to the Federal Trade Commission saying it should investigate Google and Apple for ad-tracking practices that officials say , could end up harming abortion seekers.

In response to the outcry, Google announced in July that it would begin deleting users’ location history for visits to abortion clinics and fertility clinics, among other destinations. Google also said it would add an option for Fitbit users to bulk delete their period data. (The Google-owned fitness tracker previously gave users the option to delete period tracking data on a record-by-record basis.)


But even though Google has adjusted some of its policies, it continues to face pressure from Democrats, privacy advocates, and even some of its employees to do more to protect women seeking abortions — not to mention the prospect of Republicans, who are expected to largely regain control of the House midterm this year, pushing back against the steps he is taking.

“That seems like the bare minimum of engagement,” Danielle Citron, a University of Virginia law professor and author of the forthcoming book “The Fight for Privacy,” told CNN Business in an email about the change in privacy. location data. “If Google is serious about protecting personal information, then it shouldn’t collect (and, if it did, immediately delete) information about pregnancy, abortion, and other reproductive health problems and treatments of all its services, including research. »

Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, one of the signatories to the letter to the FTC and a June letter to President Joe Biden urging him to pass an executive order upholding reproductive rights, welcomed the measure, but suggested that Google still had a lot to do. against criminalization,” Booker said in a statement provided to CNN Business.

Workers at the Alphabet Workers Union, made up of hundreds of employees from Google and parent company Alphabet, are also unhappy.

“The truth is, Google’s claim that it will start removing certain types of location data just doesn’t go far enough. User data from Google searches, and other data collected and stored on various Alphabet products, poses a significant risk to pregnant women,” said Alejandra Beatty, member of the Alphabet Workers Union-CWA and Chief tech program at Alphabet-owned Verily to CNN Business.

In response to requests for comment for this story, Google told CNN Business its blog post last month announcing the location history change. In this post, Jen Fitzpatrick, senior executive at Google, said that “protecting the privacy of our users and keeping their data secure is at the heart of what Google does,” and underscored the importance of privacy to health-related data in particular.

Fitzpatrick also addressed concerns about sharing data with law enforcement, saying Google is “committed to protecting our users from inappropriate government requests for data, and we will continue to oppose requests that are too broad or otherwise legally reprehensible”.

Still, some privacy experts have raised concerns about how Google and other companies might comply with law enforcement — an issue that arguably only gained urgency after news this week that police obtained Facebook messages between a Nebraska mother and her teenage daughter that authorities say show evidence of an illegal self-administered medical abortion.
In particular, some pointed to Google’s role in handling requests for virtual fence warrants from law enforcement, which ask internet companies for a list of devices within a certain limit at a certain time. These warrants are growing in popularity as a law enforcement tool for various alleged crimes – the number of geofencing warrants submitted to Google by US police departments has increased from 982 in 2018 to 11,554 in 2020, according to the company’s latest report. transparency report.

For its part, Google says that in some cases it asks to provide less information or refuses to provide such information at all. But the fear strikes at the underlying concern of privacy advocates about Google and some of its peers.

As Citron put it, “our phones are goldmines and, with warrants, provide a detailed view of reproductive history.”

CNN’s Clare Duffy and Brian Fung contributed to this report.


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