Democrats urge Google to stop steering abortion patients to ‘fake clinics’ in search results


Members of Congress have urged Google to block misleading search results and ads on the platform that direct users towards “fake” abortion clinics and so-called “crisis pregnancy centres,” nonmedical facilities intended to dissuade people from seeking an abortion.

A letter from 20 lawmakers to Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai indicates that 37 per cent of Google Maps results and 11 per cent of search results on the platform for prompts like “abortion clinic near me” in states that have sought to ban abortion direct users towards anti-abortion clinics.

The letter says that 28 per cent of Google ads at the top of those results were for anti-abortion clinics. It echoes reporting from the Center for Countering Digital Hate.

“Directing women towards fake clinics that traffic in misinformation and don’t provide comprehensive health services is dangerous to women’s health and undermines the integrity of Google’s search results,” lawmakers wrote in their letter on 17 June.

The lawmakers said that “Google should not be displaying anti-abortion fake clinics or crisis pregnancy centers in search results for users that are searching for an ‘abortion clinic’ or ‘abortion pill.’”

US Senator Mark Warner and US Rep Elissa Slotkin are joined by Senators Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal, Dianne Feinstein, Chris Van Hollen, John Hickenlooper, Alex Padilla, Kirsten Gillibrand, Ed Markey, Michael Bennet and Tina Smith. Democratic US Reps Don Beyer, Suzanne Bonamici, Jason Crow, Carolyn Maloney, Katie Porter, Jan Schakowsky and Jackie Speier also signed the letter.

They urged Mr Pichai to respond with a company plan to limit anti-abortion centres in results, add disclaimers where appropriate, and for information on the company’s attempts toprovide “accurate search results pertaining to health care”.

A looming decision from the US Supreme Court involving a Mississippi law is expected to overturn 50-year-old abortion care protections affirmed in the constitution in the case of Roe v Wade and reaffirmed by the decision in Planned Parenthood v Casey.

The White House and members of Congress are calling on tech companies to stop maintaining or selling sensitive health data and location information from apps that could be acquired by anti-abortion activsts and law enforcement agencies to prosecute providers in states where abortion is expected to be outlawed.

Vice President Kamala Harris said she fears states that are criminalising abortion care could subpoena patients’ personal data, including period-tracking apps and search engine results for abortion clinics, that could be used against them or their doctors.

In a meeting with legal experts about threats to privacy protections, the vice president said she fears the “vulnerability of women who are using menstrual-tracking apps, those who use a search engine to find certain locations or certain help … and how vulnerable those searches will be to bad actors attempting to track their history, much less any government forces that may be interested in investigating that for whatever purpose.”

Proposed legislation from several members of Congress would block intimate data gathered on smartphones – including, more broadly, location data – from getting into the hands of the companies that collect them and the companies that want to buy them.

A bill from California Congresswoman Sara Jacobs would strictly limit the sexual health data that companies can collect, retain and disclose, while a sweeping proposal from Senator Elizabeth Warren would ban data brokers from selling or transferring location and health data.

Last month, Senator Warren and a group of 13 senators criticised two data brokers for collecting and selling phone-based location data from people who traveled to abortion clinics.

A group of Democratic senators also wrote to Mr Pichai last month to demand that the company “stop unnecessarily collecting and retaining customer location data, to prevent that information from being used by right-wing prosecutors to identify people who have obtained abortions.”

A spokesperson for Google directed The Independent’s request for comment to a previous statement.

“Across our products, we work to make high-quality information easily accessible, particularly on critical health topics,” Google said earlier this month. “Any organization that wants to advertise to people seeking information about abortion services on Google must be certified and show in-ad disclosures that clearly state whether they do or do not offer abortions. We’re always looking at ways to improve our results to help people find what they’re looking for, or understand if what they’re looking for may not be available.”


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