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Google to Delete User Data on Trips to Abortion Clinics

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(Bloomberg) -- Alphabet Inc.’s Google said it will automatically delete records of user visits to sensitive locations, including abortion clinics, responding to growing concerns that the data could be used to prosecute those seeking reproductive care and other personal services.

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The internet search and advertising leader said the Location History feature on its services is turned off by default, but even if active, the company’s policy starting in the coming weeks will be to rapidly delete records of visits to places that many people would prefer to keep private.

“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,” Google said in a post Friday on its website. “If our systems identify that someone has visited one of these places, we will delete these entries from Location History soon after they visit.”

Google also said it will roll out updates that enable users of its Fitbit wearable devices who track their periods in the app to delete multiple logs at once.

Though Google made no explicit reference to it, the policy change is a clear response to last week’s US Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, a decision that is expected to lead to abortion becoming illegal in about half of the nation’s states. Legal and privacy experts widely anticipate that the criminalization of seeking, obtaining or aiding in abortion care will lead law enforcement and courts to demand search, location, email and cloud data from Google and other technology giants. The biggest companies have so far declined to detail how they will handle those requests.

Google declined to comment further than what’s in the blog post, though the company sought to underscore its policy of fighting government requests that it deems improper.

“We remain committed to protecting our users against improper government demands for data, and we will continue to oppose demands that are overly broad or otherwise legally objectionable,” the company said.

(Updates with details on Roe v. Wade ruling in fifth paragraph.)

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