After the United States Supreme Court overturned the Roe v Wade ruling and removed constitutional protections for abortions in the country, several civil rights activists have asked a question — how tech companies will ensure online data security. And now, after several days, Google has made a decision.
The American tech giant, which has remained silent like other tech companies since the controversial ruling was published, said it would begin automatically removing visits to abortion clinics, as well as weight-loss centers, domestic violence shelters and other potentially sensitive websites from users’ location in the story next weeks.
In a blog post shared on July 1, Google claimed that the deletion will occur “shortly after” the visit, once its systems have determined that a trip to one of the sites has been made.
“Location history is a Google account setting that’s turned off by default, and for those who turn it on, we provide simple controls like auto-delete so users can easily delete some or all of their data at any time,” Google said.
“Some of the places people visit — including medical facilities such as counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics, cosmetic surgery clinics, and others — can be particularly personal. Today we are announcing that if our systems detect that someone has visited one of these places, we will delete those entries from Location History soon after the visit. This change will go into effect in the coming weeks,” the post reads.
It should be noted that following the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade and the immediate steps taken by some states to restrict abortion.
Following the Supreme Court decision, pro-abortion rights and civil liberties advocates raised concerns that there are few federal restrictions on the data tech companies are allowed to collect and store, making it easier for law enforcement agencies to access potentially incriminating information about a person’s whereabouts, internet searches, and communication history.
Although major tech giants had not officially announced how they will handle users’ personal information for several days, such growing concerns have prompted many US women to choose to drop period tracking apps.
However, according to the Google blog post titled “Protecting people’s privacy on health themes,” the company has now stated that if people use Fitbit’s health tracking feature, an update is on the way that will allow them to delete many menstrual records at once .
“For Google Fit and Fitbit, we are giving users settings and tools to easily access and control their personal information, including the ability to change and delete personal information at any time,” it added.
It also states, “For example, Fitbit users who have chosen to track their menstrual cycles in the app can currently delete menstrual logs individually, and we will be rolling out updates that will allow users to delete multiple logs at once.”
Although Google still stores a lot of information about your actions on its servers, these privacy changes aim to remove certain data that could be used to prosecute someone for seeking medical help. Google’s post says nothing about search and YouTube histories, which can also be used as evidence in investigations.
Regarding the use of user data by officials, Google noted that the company has long opposed overly broad requests from law enforcement, even denying certain requests outright.
Legally, Google is required to comply with certain government data requests (and may be forced to share logs if any), but the company said in the blog post, “We consider the privacy and security expectations of users of our products, and we notify people when we comply with official requirements, unless we are prohibited from doing so or where human lives are at stake – for example in an emergency situation.”
Additionally, Google said it will remain committed to protecting users “from improper government data requests” and will continue to oppose requests that are “overly broad or otherwise legally objectionable.”
To reduce secrecy and promote transparency in requests for government data, the tech giant will continue to support bipartisan legislation like the NDO Fairness Act recently passed by the House of Representatives, the post said.
However, apart from Google, no other company in the US has disclosed their plans regarding data sharing and data security at this crucial moment and this is worrying as Google is not the only company keeping tabs on people or the whereabouts of their smartphones yet all day.
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