Google Will Be ‘Tool For Extremists’ In Post-Roe World, Groups Warn

Google Will Be ‘Tool For Extremists’ In Post-Roe World, Groups Warn

by , Staff Writer @wendyndavis, June 3, 2022

For more than a decade, privacy advocates have urged Google to curb its seemingly insatiable appetite for data about the people who interact with its various products and services, ranging from its search engine to YouTube to the Chrome browser to Android devices.

This spring, those calls are taking on a new urgency, given that the Supreme Court appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade — a move that will pave the way for states to impose criminal sanctions on women seeking abortions.

Late last month, 42 federal lawmakers asked Google to stop storing location information from smartphone users, in order to prevent right-wing law-enforcement officials from harnessing that data to prosecute abortion seekers.

This week, more than 40 civil rights groups joined in that request.

“In a world in which abortion could be made illegal, Google’s current practice of collecting and retaining extensive records of cell phone location data will allow it to become a tool for extremists looking to crack down on people seeking reproductive health care,” Amnesty International USA, Center for Digital Democracy, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Fight for the Future, Free Press, S.T.O.P. – The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project and dozens of others say in a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

“The only way to protect your customers’ location data from such outrageous government surveillance is to not keep it in the first place,” the organizations add.

The groups note that the police are already obtaining “geofence” warrants, which require Google to disclose information about all known Google users who were at or near a particular location at the time of a crime.

Google can collect this type of data from some Android users, as well as from iPhone users who are signed into a Google service. (A federal trial judge in Virginia recently ruled that geofence warrants are unconstitutional, but appellate courts have yet to weigh in on the question.)

“We urge you to promptly reform your data collection and retention practices, so that Google no longer collects unnecessary customer location data nor retains any non-aggregate location data about individual customers, whether in identifiable or anonymized form,” the civil rights groups say in their letter. “Google cannot allow its online advertising-focused digital infrastructure to be weaponized against people seeking abortions.”

Dozens of civil rights groups are urging Google to shed location data in order to protect women seeking abortions from prosecution.