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Democrats say Google must curb location tracking before Roe repeal

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A bunch of greater than 40 Democratic members of Congress has requested Google to cease gathering and retaining “pointless” location knowledge out of concern that it might be used to establish and prosecute individuals who have obtained abortions.

The request was made in a letter despatched to Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Tuesday by members of the Home and Senate, led by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and together with well-known progressive representatives comparable to Ayanna Pressley, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“We imagine that abortion is well being care,” the letter states. “We’ll struggle tooth and nail to make sure that it stays acknowledged as a basic proper, and that each one individuals in the US have management over their very own our bodies. That stated, we’re involved that, in a world by which abortion might be made unlawful, Google’s present observe of gathering and retaining intensive information of mobile phone location knowledge will permit it to turn out to be a instrument for far-right extremists trying to crack down on individuals searching for reproductive well being care.”

The letter particularly references geofence warrants, a controversial approach by which regulation enforcement companies request that tech firms present knowledge on all cellphones that handed by means of a geographically outlined space in a sure time interval. Geofence warrants have been criticized for his or her use within the investigation of protesters during Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and their use has grown dramatically lately: knowledge launched by Google showed a pronounced spike from 2018 to 2020.

Crucially, geofence knowledge is simply out there after a court-issued warrant — however with greater than 20 states getting ready to outlaw abortion as quickly as Roe v. Wade is overturned, it’s more and more believable that such a warrant might be used to focus on anybody visiting an abortion supplier.

To stop this from occurring, the signatories of the letter request that Google redesign its location knowledge assortment practices in order that machine knowledge is simply collected at an mixture degree, somewhat than on a person foundation, and isn’t retained by the corporate for longer than wanted. The letter additionally contrasts Google’s location knowledge coverage with Apple’s determination to reduce location knowledge retention, stating that “People who can afford an iPhone have higher privateness from authorities surveillance of their actions than the tens of thousands and thousands People utilizing Android units.”

Reproductive rights advocates have been on excessive alert since a draft opinion was leaked on Could third suggesting that the Supreme Court docket intends to overturn Roe v. Wade. Specifically, many have raised issues that digital surveillance expertise might be used to prosecute individuals who hunt down abortions. On the identical day that the Democratic letter was launched, the New York-based Surveillance Expertise Oversight Venture published a report on the various ways in which individuals searching for abortions is perhaps tracked, citing a lot of current circumstances the place knowledge from web search historical past or bank card transactions has been used towards individuals who have terminated pregnancies.

In a press release, Albert Fox Cahn, govt director of the Surveillance Expertise Oversight Venture, welcomed the Congressional letter, saying that Google ought to delete its location knowledge or be “complicit in criminalizing abortion.”

“It’s not sufficient for tech corporations to say they’re pro-choice, they need to cease gathering knowledge that places pregnant individuals in danger,” Cahn stated. “There’s no method for Texas to station state police at each out-of-state abortion clinic, however with knowledge from Google and different firms, they don’t have to. If tech giants don’t act quickly, we’ll see pregnant individuals searching for abortion care out of state, solely to return house to an arrest warrant.”

Thus far, Google has not made any public response to the letter; the corporate didn’t instantly reply to questions despatched by The Verge.

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