The next month, 17 Republican attorneys general wrote a letter to Pichai pushing for the opposite. They argued that any move to suppress pro-life search results at the behest of Democratic officials “would violate the most fundamental tenet of the American marketplace of ideas” and also “actively harm women seeking essential assistance.”
The dueling reactions highlighted a new political flashpoint for Google. The tech giant has long faced concerns from lawmakers about its vast reach and trove of data on users. But in the wake of Roe’s demise, Google, perhaps more than any of its tech peers, has come under new scrutiny for how its user data and platforms could impact abortion seekers.
In response to the outcry, Google announced in July that it would start deleting user 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 menstruation data. (The Google-owned fitness tracker previously gave users the option to delete period-tracking data on a record-by-record basis.)
But even as Google 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 widely expected to regain control of the House in the midterms this year, pushing back at the steps it does take.
“That seems the bare minimum commitment,” Danielle Citron, a law professor at the University of Virginia and author of the forthcoming book “The Fight for Privacy,” told CNN Business in an email about the location data change. “If Google is serious about protecting intimate information, then it should not collect (and, if it did, immediately delete) information related to pregnancy, abortion, and other reproductive health conditions and treatments from all of its services including search.”
Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, one of the signatories on the letter to the FTC and a June letter to President Joe Biden urging him to pass an executive order defending reproductive rights, praised the step but suggested Google still has more to do. “This is a good first step and companies like Google must continue to evaluate how their data can be used to target people seeking abortions and implement privacy protections against criminalization,” Booker said in a statement provided to CNN Business.
Workers in the Alphabet Workers Union, comprised of hundreds of employees at Google and parent company Alphabet, are also not satisfied.
“The truth is, Google’s assertion that it will begin deleting certain types of location data simply does not go far enough. User data from Google searches, and other data collected and stored on various Alphabet products, poses a significant risk to pregnant people,” Alejandra Beatty, member of the Alphabet Workers Union-CWA and technical program manager at Alphabet-owned Verily, told CNN Business.
Fitzpatrick also addressed concerns over data sharing with law enforcement, saying Google is “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.”
For its part, Google says that in some cases, it requests to provide less information or declines to provide such information at all. But the fear hits at the underlying concern privacy advocates have about Google and some of its peers.
As Citron put it, “our phones are goldmines, and with warrants provide a detailed view of one’s reproductive story.”
CNN’s Clare Duffy and Brian Fung contributed to this report.
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