Google to wipe user location history for visits to healthcare clinics, domestic violence shelters

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Google says it will automatically delete location logs when it detects visits to abortion clinics and domestic violence shelters.

In a blog post, Jen Fitzpatrick, senior vice president of Google Core Systems & Experiences, said the changes would be rolling out in the coming weeks.

Following the overturning of the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, which enshrined the right to legal abortion in the United States, there are fears that data collected through search histories, medical tracking apps, and GPS location data, among other technologies, could be used in prosecutions.

According to Fitzpatrick, while many privacy controls are on offer for users, the tech giant will also contribute by ensuring that some datasets are automatically wiped before such a future becomes a reality.

“Given that these issues apply to healthcare providers, telecommunications companies, banks, tech platforms, and many more, we know privacy protections cannot be solely up to individual companies or states acting individually,” the executive says.

Location history on your Google account is off by default, but some users may find it useful for personalized recommendations. However, if location history is enabled and a user visits a sensitive area, Google will now delete these logs automatically.

Suppose the company’s systems detect a visit to places including medical facilities, counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, abortion and fertility clinics, or addiction treatment centers. In that case, Fitzpatrick says, “we will delete these entries from Location History soon after they visit.”

Period tracking apps and software are also of concern. At the moment, the logs of menstruation trackers in Google Fit and Fitbit can be deleted one record at a time, but the company intends to expand this to allow multiple logs to be removed at once.

Google has also reiterated its stance on law enforcement data demands. In some cases, the company is legally obligated to hand over user information. Still, users are informed when their data is shared unless Google is barred from doing so or a situation is considered an emergency.

The company also publishes a regular transparency report that shares the number of law enforcement requests it receives and how many are successful. Google may push back against over-broad requests or object to providing records at all.

“We remain committed to protecting our users against improper government demands for data, and we will continue to oppose demands that are overly broad or otherwise legally objectionable,” Fitzpatrick commented. “We also will continue to support bipartisan legislation, such as the NDO Fairness Act recently passed by the House of Representatives, to reduce secrecy and increase transparency around government data demands.”

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