Google has announced it’s about to take a major step aimed at keeping personal location data from getting out: The company will begin auto-deleting location history when people go to abortion clinics, addiction treatment, counseling centers and other places the tech giant says are “particularly personal.”
“Privacy matters to people — especially around topics such as their health,” wrote Jen Fitzpatrick, Google’s senior vice president of core systems, in a blog dated July 1. The blog goes on to say that “in the coming weeks,” it will begin to auto-delete a user’s location history on devices that go to locations related to a variety of personal health concerns.
“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,” Fitzpatrick 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.”
Following the Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling to overturn the federal right to an abortion on June 24, individual states now control the legality of this politically charged medical procedure and can limit a resident’s access to treatment.
Since that decision was made, many people have had questions regarding when and where someone can have legal access to abortion or miscarriage care, and, if they have to travel out of state to terminate a pregnancy, can they expect the level of privacy that usually accompanies medical procedures? Some are wondering how to keep their personal data confidential when they travel to a state where they can legally receive medical care that has become illegal in their home state.
Concerns like this led to Google’s move to protect users’ location data (though the company has dealt with plenty of criticism over its handling of user data in the past).
In the blog post, which is titled “Protecting people’s privacy on health topics,” Fitzpatrick stated it’s the company’s intention to protect its users’ privacy regarding these sensitive matters, including advocating for a “comprehensive nationwide U.S. privacy law” to be passed by Congress.
In addition to concerns over location history, Fitzpatrick also says users will be able to edit other health-tracking data, such as menstruation patterns, in a more accurate and efficient way to protect their privacy.
The post concluded with a promise that Google would remain committed to increasing transparency regarding how data is saved and shared, as well as improving data security for all Google users.
“We’re committed to delivering robust privacy protections for people who use our products, and we will continue to look for new ways to strengthen and improve these protections,” the blog continues.” We support Congressional efforts to reach bipartisan agreement on nationwide privacy protections that move the burden of privacy off individuals and establish good data practices across the board.”