Google will automatically delete abortion clinic visits and more from location history to protect users

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Google has announced plans to help protect user privacy in relation to health data. While the company does not make explicit reference to the recent overturning of Roe v Wade, there has been concern in the wake of the historic ruling, including fears that data collected by apps and websites could be used against individuals.

With this in mind, Google says that it will start to automatically delete location data about visits to "particularly personal" facilities such as abortion clinics and domestic violence centers. The company has also announced update to both Google Fit and Fitbit that will give users greater control over their data.

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With abortion now illegal in many states -- or about to become so -- there is a great deal of concern about the potential for location data collection by the likes of Google Maps and health apps to be used to help with prosecution. After the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade, there has already been a movement of users of period tracking apps to options that offer greater privacy, and Google's latest set of announcement helps to further increase user privacy.

In a blog post entitled "Protecting people's privacy on health topics", Google says:

Location History is a Google account setting that is off by default, and for those that turn it on, we provide simple controls like auto-delete so users can easily delete parts, or all, of their data at any time. Some of the places people visit -- including medical facilities like counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics, cosmetic surgery clinics, and others -- can be particularly personal. Today, we're announcing that if our systems identify that someone has visited one of these places, we will delete these entries from Location History soon after they visit. This change will take effect in the coming weeks.

The company points out existing privacy controls as well as revealing upcoming changes to Fitbit and Google Fit software:

Google Play has strict protocols to protect user privacy -- including policies that prohibit developers from selling personal and sensitive user data and a requirement that they handle that data securely and only for purposes directly related to operating the app. To further promote transparency and control for users, we also recently introduced Play's new data safety section that developers use to give people more information about how apps collect, share, and secure their data. For Google Fit and Fitbit, we give users settings and tools to easily access and control their personal data, including the option to change and delete personal information, at any time. For example, Fitbit users who have chosen to track their menstrual cycles in the app can currently delete menstruation logs one at a time, and we will be rolling out updates that let users delete multiple logs at once.

More information -- including Google's commitment to "pushing back" on demands from law enforcement agencies -- can be found in the blog post.

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