SAN FRANCISCO — Google said Friday it would remove abortion clinic visits from its users’ location histories, in the company’s first attempt to address how it will process sensitive data in the wake of Roe v. Wade’s destruction by the Supreme Court.
The change in location data will happen in the coming weeks, Jen Fitzpatrick, a senior vice president of Google, wrote in a blog post. The policy will also apply to travel to fertility clinics, domestic violence shelters, addiction treatment centers and other sensitive locations.
Google, which holds masses of confidential information about its billions of users, has been under scrutiny since last week’s Supreme Court decision to take down Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to abortion after nearly 50 years. Some reproductive rights advocates have pushed people to remove apps that track their menstrual cycles online, while experts said search and location data from companies like Google are more likely to be used as evidence.
More generally, Roe’s overthrow has raised new questions about how much data and digital traces people have produced, which could be used to monitor or target those trying to get an abortion. In states that allow prohibitions or other restrictions on abortion, law enforcement is expected to focus on taking action against medical providers, but information about individuals — including location data, payment details, and more — isn’t hard to come by through data brokers and other sources.
The Alphabet Workers Union, a group representing more than 800 people who work for Google’s parent company, Alphabet, demanded on Tuesday that the search giant delete all personal information law enforcement could use to prosecute those who undergo abortions.
With Friday’s announcement, although Google will remove some location data, it has not committed to automatically removing search records about abortions, which may also be wanted. Users must individually choose to delete their search history.
Google has been sued by the state of Texas accused of continuing to track users even when they use Chrome’s web browsers’ supposedly private incognito mode — which could further erode confidence that the company will wipe all data when people try to browse privately. .
Google has also made no commitments to change the way it handles government data requests.
“We remain committed to protecting our users from inappropriate governmental demands for data, and we will continue to oppose demands that are too broad or otherwise legally objectionable,” Ms. Fitzpatrick wrote.
The company also said users will soon be able to delete multiple menstrual logs stored on Fitbit, a health logging company owned by Google, more quickly, rather than one at a time. The company also reminded users to use existing settings on Google to improve their online privacy.