Google's Data Capture Endangers Abortion Seekers

Sundar Pichai and Google leadership

Google collects a huge amount of sensitive location data. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, Google’s data stockpile will be weaponized to identify and target people seeking abortions. Sign the open letter to tell Google to protect people receiving abortions, and immediately stop unnecessarily collecting and retaining customer location data.

Following the recent Supreme Court draft opinion, the constitutional right to safe, legal abortion will likely evaporate in the coming months. Many states with so-called “trigger bans” will immediately criminalize abortion. Congress may seek to criminalize abortion in all 50 states, putting the government in control of peoples’ bodies.

When this comes to pass, Google will become complicit in the criminalization of people seeking reproductive health care. That’s because Google stores historical location data about hundreds of millions of smartphone users, which it routinely shares with government agencies through “geofence” orders that unmask the identities of anyone who traveled to a specific place at a specific time—like an abortion clinic on a specific day. Google received 11,554 such geofence warrants in 2020.

If abortion is made illegal by the Supreme Court and lawmakers, it is inevitable that prosecutors will obtain these geofence warrants to hunt down, prosecute and jail people for obtaining critical reproductive health care. The only way to protect Americans’ location data from such outrageous government surveillance is for Google not to keep it in the first place.

Tell Google: to protect people seeking abortions, stop collecting and retaining unnecessary location data.

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To: Sundar Pichai and Google leadership
From: [Your Name]

We write to urge you to stop unnecessarily collecting and retaining customer location data, to prevent that information from being used to identify people who have obtained abortions.

The recent Supreme Court draft opinion shows that the constitutional right to safe, legal abortion—a fundamental right that Americans have known for half a century—is likely to be overturned. If this decision becomes final, many states that have trigger laws will immediately criminalize abortion and Congress may pass a law criminalizing abortion in all 50 states.

In a world in which abortion could be made illegal, Google’s current practice of collecting and retaining extensive records of cell phone location data will allow it to become a tool for extremists looking to crack down on people seeking reproductive health care. That’s because Google stores historical location information about hundreds of millions of smartphone users, which it routinely shares with government agencies.

While Google collects and retains customer location data for various business purposes, including to target online ads, Google is not the only entity to make use of this data. Law enforcement officials routinely obtain court orders forcing Google to turn over its customers' location information. This includes dragnet “geofence” orders demanding data about everyone who was near a particular location at a given time. In fact, according to data published by Google, one quarter of the law enforcement orders that your company receives each year are for these dragnet geofence orders; Google received 11,554 geofence warrants in 2020.

Google is not required to collect and keep records of its customers’ every movement. Apple has shown that it is not necessary for smartphone companies to retain invasive tracking databases of their customers' locations. Google's intentional choice to do so is creating a new digital divide, in which privacy and security are made a luxury.

If abortion is made illegal by the Supreme Court and Congress, it is inevitable that prosecutors will use legal means to hunt down, prosecute and jail people for obtaining 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.

To that end, we urge you to promptly reform your data collection and retention practices, so that Google no longer collects unnecessary customer location data nor retains any non-aggregate location data about individual customers, whether in identifiable or anonymized form. Google cannot allow its online advertising-focused digital infrastructure to be weaponized against people seeking abortions.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.