Google Urged to Stop Tracking Location Data Ahead of Roe Reversal

More than 40 Democrats in Congress have called on Google to stop collecting and withholding customer location data that prosecutors could use to identify women who have abortions.

“We’re concerned that in a world where abortion could be outlawed, Google’s current practice of collecting and retaining extensive cell phone location records will allow it to become a tool for extremists. “This is because Google is storing historical information about the location of hundreds of millions of smartphone users, which it regularly shares with government agencies.” the Democrats wrote on May 24 in a letter addressed by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Ore., California). The letter was sent to Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

Specifically, Google should stop collecting “unnecessary customer location data” or “any unaggregated location data on individual customers, whether identifiable or anonymous.” Google cannot allow its digital advertising-focused online infrastructure to be armed against women, “lawmakers wrote. They also told Google that people who use iPhone” have more privacy from government surveillance of their movements than the tens of millions of Americans who use Android devices. “

The draft Supreme Court ruling overturns Roe against Wade could be followed by strict limits or bans on abortion in many states, and Democrats wrote that “Republicans in Congress are already discussing the passage of a law criminalizing abortion in all 50 states, putting the government in the control of women’s bodies “.

Android phone location data

In their letter, Democrats told Pichai:

While Google deserves credit for being one of the first U.S. companies to insist on an order before disclosing location data to law enforcement, that’s not enough. If abortion is illegal by the far-right Supreme Court and Republican lawmakers, it is inevitable that right-wing prosecutors will get legal orders to hunt down, prosecute, and imprison women for critical 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 gets detailed information “from Android smartphones, which collect and transmit location information to Google, regardless of whether the phone is being used or which app a user has open,” they wrote. While Android users should opt for this data collection, “Google has designed its Android operating system so that consumers can only allow third-party applications to access location data if they also allow Google receive your location data, however, Google can only collect location data from iPhone users when they use the Google Maps app, “the lawmakers wrote.

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

The exact operation of Google’s location privacy settings has been a source of confusion, even for some Google employees. As we wrote in August 2020, documents from a consumer fraud lawsuit filed in the state of Arizona against Google “show that the company’s employees knew and argued among themselves that the privacy settings of the location of the business was confusing and potentially misleading. “

Democrats say iPhone users have more privacy

Because many of the cheapest smartphones use Android, lawmakers warned of a “digital divide” that affects the privacy of low-income people:

No law requires Google to collect and maintain records of all movements of its customers. Apple has shown that it is not necessary for smartphone companies to maintain invasive tracking databases of their customers’ locations. Google’s intentional decision to do so is to create a new digital divide, in which privacy and security become a luxury. Americans who can afford an iPhone have more privacy in government surveillance of their movements than the tens of millions of Americans who use Android devices.

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