Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Google says it will delete users’ location history for abortion clinic visits

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Google will automatically delete location history when users visit sensitive places like abortion clinics, according to a blog posted last week.  

In the post, the tech giant said the location history setting on Google accounts is off by default, and users who turn it on can remove data at any time. The new protections will delete entries from places like counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics and cosmetic surgery clinics soon after users visit. The feature will be added in the coming weeks.

Google also said it plans to roll out updates to Fitbit that will allow users who track their periods to delete multiple menstruation logs at once. Users can currently remove logs one at a time.

“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,” Jen Fitzpatrick, senior vice president of core systems and experiences at Google, wrote in the blog post.

“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.” 

THE LARGER TREND

After Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court last month, privacy experts have raised concerns personal data could be used as evidence that a user sought an abortion. 

Period-tracking app Flo last week announced it would soon launch an “anonymous mode,” allowing people to use the app without personal email, name and technical identifiers. Other apps released statements discussing their privacy and data-sharing policies

Meanwhile, the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released guidance last week addressing how federal law and regulations protect individuals’ protected health information relating to abortion and other reproductive healthcare. It also clarified what medical information is protected on personal devices like smartphones, and offered suggestions for privacy protection when using health apps.

Some senators are calling on HHS to update HIPAA to ensure patients’ health information can’t be shared with law enforcement agencies that are targeting people who may have had an abortion. 

“When HIPAA was signed into law in 1996, Roe v. Wade had upheld the right to an abortion for over two decades,” Senators Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., wrote to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “When the HIPAA Privacy Rule was issued in 2000, it would have been unimaginable that the Supreme Court would strip away this fundamental right more than 20 years later.”





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