Nearly a dozen Senate Democrats wrote to Google this week with questions about how it deletes users’ location history when they have visited sensitive locations such as abortion clinics, expressing concerns that the company may not have been consistently deleting the data as promised.
The letter dated Monday and led by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Mazie Hirono seeks answers from Google about the types of locations Google considers to be sensitive and how long it takes for the company to automatically delete visit history.
The letter comes after tests performed by The Washington Post and other privacy advocates appeared to show that Google was not quickly or consistently deleting users’ recorded visits to fertility centers of Planned Parenthood clinics.
“This data is extremely personal and includes information about reproductive health care,” the senators wrote. “We are also concerned that it can be used to target advertisements for services that may be unnecessary or potentially harmful physically, psychologically, or emotionally.”
Concerns about the security of location data have spiked in Washington since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, opening the door to state laws restricting or penalizing abortion-seekers. Under those laws, privacy advocates have said, states could potentially compel tech companies to hand over location data that might reveal whether a person has illegally sought an abortion.
“Claiming and publicly announcing that Google will delete sensitive location data, without consistently doing so, could be considered a deceptive practice,” the senators added, implying that Google’s conduct could be grounds for an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, which is authorized to police unfair and deceptive business practices.
Google declined to comment Wednesday on the lawmakers’ letter, instead referring CNN to a blog post that answers some but not all of the senators’ questions.
Google defines sensitive locations as “including counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics, cosmetic surgery clinics, and others,” according to an update to the blog post dated May 12. “If you visit a general purpose medical facility (like a hospital), the visit may persist.”
The blog post does not, however, address the senators’ request for Google to explain what it means when it claims the data will be deleted “soon after” a visit.