Facing global scrutiny over privacy, US tech major Google braces for more trouble in its native country. According to the latest reports, more than 40 Democratic members of Congress have asked Google to stop, what they see as the unnecessary collection and retention of people’s location data, collecting the information that could be used to identify women seeking abortions.
In a recent letter to Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google parent Alphabet Inc, the lawmakers express concern that if abortion were to become illegal in the US, the company’s “current practice of collecting and retaining extensive records of cell phone location data will allow it to become a tool for far-right extremists looking to crack down on people seeking reproductive health care.”
If the Supreme Court upends the 1973 decision that legalized abortion — as a draft opinion suggests it may in the coming weeks — pregnancies could be surveilled and the data shared with the police or sold to vigilantes, privacy experts fear.
Google, specifically, stores “historical location information about hundreds of millions of smartphone users,” the letter notes, “which it routinely shares with government agencies.”
So far tech companies have tried to stay out of the abortion debate. Meta Platforms, which owns Facebook, has reportedly reminded employees that they are prohibited from discussing abortion in workplace communication channels. Meta did not respond to a request for comment.
In their letter, the Democrats, who were led by Sen Ron Wyden from Oregon, have asked Google to stop collecting and keeping records of their customers’ every movement.
Law enforcement officials routinely obtain court orders forcing Google to turn over its customers’ location information, the letter notes. This includes “geofence” orders, which are requests for Google to provide data about everyone who was near a specific location at a specific time.
Google received 11,554 geofence warrants in 2020, according to the company. It has not said how many of those it complied with.