Google urged to stop collecting location data from phones before Roe v. wade

Enlarge / A pro-choice protester outside the United States Supreme Court in Washington, DC on May 11, 2022.

Getty Images | Stefani Reynolds

More than 40 Democratic members of Congress have called on Google to stop collecting and storing customer location data that prosecutors could use to identify women having abortions.

“[W]We fear that, in a world where abortion could be made illegal, Google’s current practice of collecting and maintaining extensive records of cellphone location data will allow it to become a tool for far-right extremists. who seek to repress people seeking procreation. Health care. That’s because Google stores historical location information about hundreds of millions of smartphone users, which it regularly shares with government agencies,” Democrats wrote Tuesday in a letter led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D. -Ore.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif). .) The letter was sent to Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

Specifically, Google should stop collecting “unnecessary customer location data” or “any non-aggregated location data about individual customers, whether in identifiable or anonymized form. Google cannot allow its customer-centric digital infrastructure to online advertising is weaponized against women,” the lawmakers wrote. . They also told Google that people who use iPhones “have greater privacy from government surveillance of their movements than the tens of millions of Americans using Android devices.”

The Supreme Court’s draft decision overturning Roe vs. Wade could be followed by strict limits or bans on abortion in many states, and the Democrats wrote that “Republicans in Congress are already discussing passing legislation criminalizing abortion in all 50 states, giving government control of women’s bodies”.

Android phone location data

In their letter, the Democrats told Pichai:

While Google deserves credit for being one of the first US companies to require a warrant before disclosing location data to law enforcement, that’s not enough. If abortion is made illegal by the far-right Supreme Court and Republican lawmakers, it is inevitable that right-wing prosecutors will win legal warrants to hunt down, prosecute and imprison women for obtaining essential reproductive health care. The only way to protect your customers’ location data from such outrageous government surveillance is to not keep it in the first place.

Google obtains detailed information “from Android smartphones, which collect and transmit location information to Google, whether the phone is being used or what app a user has opened,” they wrote. While Android users should opt in to this data collection, “Google has designed its Android operating system so that consumers can only allow third-party apps to access location data if they also allow Google to also receive their location data. In contrast, Google is only able to collect location data from iPhone users when they use the Google Maps app,” the lawmakers wrote.

We contacted Google about the letter today and will update this article if we get a response.

Exactly how Google’s location privacy settings work is confusing, even for some Google employees. As we wrote in August 2020, documents from a consumer fraud lawsuit brought by the State of Arizona against Google “show that employees of the company knew and discussed among themselves that the settings of confidentiality of the company’s location were confusing and potentially misleading”.

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