The controversial ruling made by the US Supreme Court last year, in which it overturned the Roe v Wade court case of 1973 and prohibited abortion for females across the USA, continues to have significant repercussions today. Amid rising fears that data collected by Google could be used to prosecute those seeking parenthood planning services, the tech giant had pledged to proactively delete such sensitive information from its location history database.
However, an investigate study published in the Washington Post in May of this year reveals that Google has reneged on that promise. While the author of the article did report that the company had removed certain data about visits to “particularly personal” places, it did not so consistently or coherently, leading to fresh concerns that digital espionage could be used to facilitate prosecutions.
Witness for the prosecution
For anyone who allows Google to track their location – which is often a prerequisite for making the most of such services as its Maps app to even its search engine – that data could be stored for far longer than they realise. In the case of pregnant women wishing to assess their options by visiting abortion clinics or other planned parenthood service providers, it could even be subpoenaed by the authorities and used against them.
Aware of this eventuality, Google announced last July that it would take action remove any location data involving sensitive destinations. In its own words, this includes “counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics, cosmetic surgery clinics, and others.”
However, a story by Geoffrey A Fowler in the Washington Post reveals that Google has not been faithful to that pledge. Fowler visited a dozen abortion clinics in his area over the course of several weeks, asking Google for directions to reach his destination, taking photos of some of the locations and intermittently marking himself as “here” on the app.
For some of the clinics that Fowler visited, Google did remove the data history within 24 hours – but for others, it was still present over a week later. Indeed, the tech columnist commented that there seemed to be no rhyme nor reason to which locales stuck and which didn’t. His findings were in keeping with those of a similar study carried out in several states across the US, in which Google failed to delete date almost two-thirds (60%) of the time.
Taking back control
That Google is not being consistent nor transparent about the data it keeps is concerning enough in its own right – but the repercussions could be life-changing for anyone who seeks abortion advice in a state where it is outlawed. As such, it makes sense to take back control of your personal data as much as possible.
With regard to Google, this involves turning off location tracking, opting out of cookie collection policies and tweaking your privacy settings to minimize its access to your information.
However, your data is available online in a much wider sense, too; in order to remove this as comprehensively as possible and reduce your digital footprint as best you can, it may be worthwhile contracting the services of a third-party company like Incogni which specializes in data removal. For an affordable fee, they’ll automatically send dozens of opt out requests to data brokerage firms to limit the amount of sensitive info about you available online.