Google To Delete Location History Of Users Who Visit Abortion Clinics

Google has said it will automatically delete Android smartphone users’ location history when they visit locations such as abortion clinics, after the US Supreme Court removed the country’s federal protection for terminations.

Google also said it would close a loophole that allows apps on a phone to gather information about other apps installed on the device, which has led to sensitive data on individuals being put up for sale by data aggregators.

Last month’s revocation of the 1973 Roe v Wade decision opened the way for restrictive abortion laws in many US states, and tech companies and campaigners fear the intimate personal data stored on smartphones could be used to help prosecute those who contravene the new measures.

The US Supreme Court. Image credit: US Supreme Court

Location history

Google said it will now automatically delete the location history from the accounts of users who pass near the proximity of sensitive location such as abortion clinics, fertility centres, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics and cosmetic surgery clinics.

“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,”said Google executive Jen Fitzpatrick in a blog post.

Google initially announced last March that it planned to place more restrictions on what information apps can gather about what is installed on a device.

The change was supposed to take place last summer, but Google said the pandemic and other factors led it to miss the deadline.

App scanning

Following the new deadline of 12 July it said only “utility apps” such as device search, antivirus and file managers would be able to see what other apps are installed on a phone.

Industry watchers say that although app scanning isn’t allowed under Google’s terms, in practice the company hasn’t enforced the rule.

As a result apps commonly collect the data and send it on to commercial third parties.

“Collecting app inventory data to sell it or share it for analytics or ads monetisation purposes has never been allowed on Google Play,” Google said in a statement.

User profiles

It said developers would have to apply to use the Query All Packages API and would have to justify why they needed to use it.

A data marketplace called Narrative.io was found to be selling profiles of users who had apps such as Planned Parenthood or menstruation trackers on their phones, based on data aggregated from commercial sources.

The company removed the data in May after leaked documents indicated the Supreme Court planned to revoke Roe v Wade.

Google said it “never sells user data, and Google Play strictly prohibits the sale of user data by developers. When we discover violations we take action”.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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