Google Announces It Will Delete Users’ Location History Data for Medical Facility Visits, Abortion Clinics

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Google announced Friday that it plans to delete location history data “soon after” users visit medical facilities, including abortion clinics.

The news, which the tech company published in a blog post also covering how it will also handle user data on apps, follows the June 24 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

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“Some of the places people visit — including medical facilities like counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics, cosmetic surgery clinics, and others — can be particularly personal,” Jen Fitzpatrick, senior vp of Core Systems at Google, wrote in the post. “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.”

The announcement also confirmed that the change will take effect in the coming weeks and noted that users who have previously enabled location history have the ability to have some or all parts of their data auto-deleted. The post additionally addresses concerns raised around tech companies collection of health, fertility and menstruation data.

“For Google Fit and Fitbit, we give users settings and tools to easily access and control their personal data, including the option to change and delete personal information, at any time,” the Alphabet Inc. subsidiary’s post read.

Reproductive health, abortion and privacy experts and advocates noted in the week after Roe’s overturning that data from certain reproductive health tracking apps could be used to surveil, identify and help arrest women in states where abortions have become illegal. Dr. Gina Neff, director of the Minderoo Center for Technology and Democracy at the University of Cambridge, tweeted to “Delete those fertility apps now,” and in an interview with The New York Times, said the apps contained “powerful information about reproductive choices that’s now a threat.”

Pointing specifically to period tracking, the post notes that Fitbit users “who have chosen to track their menstrual cycles in the app” can delete menstruation logs one at a time. The announcement also confirmed that Google plans to release updates that allow users to “delete multiple logs at once.”

“Google Play has strict protocols to protect user privacy — including policies that prohibit developers from selling personal and sensitive user data and a requirement that they handle that data securely and only for purposes directly related to operating the app,” according to Fitzpatrick’s blog post.

The Friday statement doesn’t directly confirm whether Google would refuse to comply with requests from U.S. law enforcement, courts or prosecutors for users’ health information. Some period tracking apps like Clue, which is based in Europe, have already released statements confirming that they will not as no “U.S. Court or other authority can override” European privacy law and “cannot simply” subpoena data from the U.S. “since we are not based in the U.S.”)

It does offer users the aforementioned “additional steps” it is taking to protect user privacy around health issues and notes that the company has “long advocated for a comprehensive and nationwide U.S. privacy law that guarantees protections for everyone.”

“We understand that people rely on Google to keep their personal data secure. We’ve long been committed to this work,” the post reads.

The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to Google for comment.

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