In response to backlash from lawmakers and the public, Google is changing how it displays health care facilities that provide abortions.
As first reported by Tech Crunch (opens in new tab), Google will start adding labels that clearly state whether or not a facility provides abortion procedures. If a facility provides abortions, Google will label it “Provides abortions.” If Google is unable to confirm if the facility provides abortions, it will be labeled “Might not provide abortions.”
These labels leave relatively little ambiguity and will be visible in Google Search and Google Maps. However, users still need to be careful when it comes to places labeled “Might not provide abortions” — or places with no label at all. A Google spokesperson told Tech Crunch that the label is not meant to categorize places and could not confirm that crisis pregnancy centers will specifically receive the label.
What prompted this change from Google?
These changes to how Google handles labeling which places do or do not provide abortion access come on the heels of a Bloomberg (opens in new tab) report which showed that Google regularly misled people searching for abortion clinics. A quarter of the time, Google would steer people towards crisis pregnancy centers, which are considered by some to be controversial. These centers focus on discouraging women from proceeding with an abortion, and in states where abortion access is now restricted or illegal, they would often dominate Google’s search results.
This pattern of behavior from Google prompted a stern response from lawmakers. Back in June, Reuters (opens in new tab) reported that Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and Representative Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) wrote to Google demanding accurate results for abortion-related searches.
In addition to the media and Congress, Google also faced pressure from its competition. Yelp (opens in new tab) recently changed its policy regarding how it handles crisis pregnancy centers. It will now flag them as places that “provide limited medical services and may not have licensed medical professionals onsite.”
Abortion access in the US: Other tech privacy concerns
Concerns about accurate search results are not the only thing currently on people’s minds when it comes to tech and abortion. Two Vice reports revealed that government organizations such as the CDC have been able to easily acquire smartphone data for sale; following the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, there have been fears that private phone data could be used against women who seek an abortion and those who assist them in getting the medical procedure.
Several period-tracking apps, including Flo and Clue, have stated that personal data will be kept safe, with Flo offering an “anonymous mode” that removes personal data, and Clue stating that it is required to be compliant with European GDPR regulations on personal data.
Unfortunately, despite these claims, there is no guarantee that personal data will remain safe and protected. Our fitness editor Jane McGuire recently broke down how personal data is handled in period-tracking apps, and we recommend reading it if you still have concerns.