Google asked to stop tracking location data before reversing Roe

More than 40 Democratic members of Congress have called for Google stop collecting and storing client location data that prosecutors can use to identify women who have abortions.

“We are concerned that, in a world where abortion may be illegal, Google’s current extensive collection and record-keeping of cell phone location data will allowing it to become a tool for far-right extremists seeking to persecute those seeking reproductive health care. That’s because Google stores historical location information about hundreds of millions of smartphone users that Google regularly shares with government agencies.” Democrats wrote May 24 in one Letters led by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Representative Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.). The letter was sent to the Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

Specifically, Google will stop collecting “unnecessary customer location data” or “any non-aggregated location data about individual customers, whether identifiable or anonymous. Google cannot allow its online advertising-focused digital infrastructure to be weaponized against women,” the lawmakers wrote. They also told Google that iPhone users “have greater privacy from government surveillance of their movements than the tens of millions of Americans using Android devices.”

The draft judgment of the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade could be followed by strict limits or bans on abortion in many states, and Democrats wrote that “Republicans in Congress have discuss passed legislation criminalizing abortion in all 50 states, putting the government in control of women’s bodies”.

Location data from Android phone

In their letter, the Democrats told Pichai:

While Google deserves credit for being one of the first companies in the US to insist on enforcing an order before disclosing location data to law enforcement, it’s not enough. If abortion is made illegal by the far-right Supreme Court and Republican lawmakers, it is certain that right-wing prosecutors will receive legal warrants to track down, prosecute, and imprison the perpetrators. women receive important reproductive health care. The only way to protect customers’ location data from excessive government surveillance is to not keep it in the first place.

Google pulls details “from Android smartphones, collecting and transmitting location information to Google, regardless of the phone being used or the app the user has opened,” they wrote. While Android users must 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 receive their location data. In contrast, Google can only collect location data from iPhone users when they are using the Google Maps app,” the lawmakers wrote.

We reached out to Google about the letter yesterday and will update this article if we receive a response.

Exactly how Google’s location privacy settings work is a matter of confusion, even for some Google employees. Like us written in August 2020documents from a consumer fraud lawsuit against the state of Arizona filed against Google “show that company employees knew and discussed among themselves that the company’s location privacy settings were confusing.” and potentially misleading”.

Democrats say iPhone users have more privacy

Because many cheaper smartphones use Android, lawmakers have warned of a “digital divide” affecting the privacy of low-income people:

There is no law that requires Google to collect and keep records of every customer movement. Apple has shown that it is not necessary for smartphone companies to keep tracking databases that compromise the location of their customers. Google’s deliberate choice to do so is creating a new digital divide in which privacy and security are seen as a luxury. Americans who can afford an iPhone have greater privacy from government surveillance of their movements than the tens of millions of Americans who use Android devices.

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