US Democrats demand Google to limit geolocation before abortion ban is repealed in US, Google CEO Sundar Pichai writes


More than 40 members of the US Congress sent a letter on Tuesday to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, asking the company to restrict the collection of location data in the United States, in order to prevent Roe’s ruling from being overturned. They urge Google to stop collecting and retaining “unnecessary” or “non-aggregate” location data that can be used to identify and prosecute people who have had abortions. Yesterday’s speech came on the heels of a separate letter from Democrats urging the FTC to protect consumer data privacy in light of the early ruling.

The Roe case (specifically Roe v. Wade) is a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court in 1973 on the question of the constitutionality of laws criminalizing or restricting abortion. The prospect of its revocation has raised concerns about the use of location data or search history against people who seek or seek abortions in states where access to abortion is illegal. The US Supreme Court has not yet made its final decision, but the chief justice confirmed that the project was genuine.

The request was made in a letter sent Tuesday to Google CEO Sundar Pichai by members of the House and Senate, led by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) including well-known progressive representatives such as Ayanna Pressley, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. We can read in the message from Democrats: We believe abortion is health care. We will fight with all our might to ensure that it continues to be recognized as a fundamental human right and that all people in the United States have control of their own bodies.

However, we are concerned that in a world where abortion can be made illegal, Google’s current practice of collecting and storing extensive records of mobile phone location data could allow it to become a tool for political extremists. Right-wing extremists who seek to suppress people who seek reproductive health care. In fact, Google stores historical information about the locations of hundreds of millions of smartphone users, which it shares regularly with government agencies, lawmakers continue.

According to the letter, Google said it received 11,554 defensive orders in 2020 alone. A defense warrant is a type of court order that requires a company to deliver user data to a specific location at a certain time. Google has not disclosed the number of injunctions it has cooperated with. While Google deserves credit for being one of the first companies in America to insist on an injunction before disclosing location data to law enforcement, that is not enough, the letter said. Lawmakers said that after Roe’s ruling was overturned, it would be easier to obtain arrest warrants to prosecute people.

If abortion is made illegal by the far-right Supreme Court and Republican lawmakers, it is inevitable that far-right plaintiffs will get legal orders to track, prosecute, and imprison women for their access to reproductive health care. The lawmakers wrote that the only way to protect your customers’ location data from such disgraceful government monitoring is not to keep it in the first place. The latter said that Google is of particular importance if this protection is removed.

The company collects a huge amount of location data through its Android operating system apps and apps. It then sells this information to many thousands of companies around the world and also makes it available to law enforcement. Lawmakers have distinguished between Google and Apple: Apple has shown that it is not beneficial for smartphone makers to maintain invasive tracking databases of their customers’ websites. Google’s deliberate choice to do so is creating a new digital divide, in which privacy and security become a luxury.

The letter says Americans who can afford an iPhone are more protected from government monitoring of their movements than tens of millions of Americans who use Android devices. Thus, the signatories to the letter request that Google review its location data collection practices so that device-related data is collected on an aggregate basis, not on an individual basis, and not retained by the company for longer than necessary.

In a statement, Albert Fox Kahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Watch Project, welcomed the letter from Congress, saying that Google should remove its location data or be “complicit in the criminalization of abortion.” Last week, 16 Democrats signed a letter to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan urging her to protect data privacy for people seeking reproductive health care. Google has not commented on the message yet.

Source: The Letter from the US Democrats Google (PDF)

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See also

Google collects 20 times more telemetry data from Android devices than Apple collects from iOS, but Google rejects those findings, saying they are based on a flawed methodology

Google will authorize 4,700 companies to access the data it collects on Internet users, and the company will share Internet users’ personal data on an astounding scale

The Google Play Store now requires apps to disclose aggregated data to make it easier for users to discover what the app is doing with their data

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