Washington, May 25: Nearly a dozen Senate Democrats wrote to Google this week with questions about how it deletes users' location history when they have visited sensitive locations such as abortion clinics, expressing concerns that the company may not have been consistently deleting the data as promised, CNN Business reported.
The letter dated Monday and led by Senators Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Mazie Hirono seeks answers from Google about the types of locations Google considers to be sensitive and how long it takes for the company to automatically delete visit history. Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple 'Abused Monopoly Power', Alleges Lawmakers from US House of Representatives in New Report.
CNN Business said the letter comes after tests performed by The Washington Post and other privacy advocates appeared to show that Google was not quickly or consistently deleting users' recorded visits to fertility centres of Planned Parenthood clinics. Google Discusses Data Privacy Before Senate Hearing.
"This data is extremely personal and includes information about reproductive health care," the senators wrote. "We are also concerned that it can be used to target advertisements for services that may be unnecessary or potentially harmful physically, psychologically, or emotionally."
Concerns about the security of location data have spiked in Washington since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs Wade last year, opening the door to state laws restricting or penalising abortion-seekers. Under those laws, privacy advocates have said, states could potentially compel tech companies to hand over location data that might reveal whether a person has illegally sought an abortion, according to CNN Business.
"Claiming and publicly announcing that Google will delete sensitive location data, without consistently doing so, could be considered a deceptive practice," the senators added, implying that Google's conduct could be grounds for an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, which is authorised to police unfair and deceptive business practices.
Google declined to comment Wednesday on the lawmakers' letter, instead referring CNN to a blog post that answers some but not all of the senators' questions.
According to CNN Business, Google defines sensitive locations as "including counselling centres, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centres, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics, cosmetic surgery clinics, and others," according to an update to the blog post dated May 12. "If you visit a general purpose medical facility (like a hospital), the visit may persist."
Most abortions are now banned in 14 states following the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Georgia also bans abortion at about six weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant, New York Times reported.
In many states, the fight over abortion access is still taking place in courtrooms, where advocates have sued to block enforcement of laws that restrict the procedure. Other states have moved to expand access to abortion by adding legal protections, it added.
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