Democratic Lawmakers Implore Google To Halt Geo Data Collection

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A slew of Democratic lawmakers asked Google to stop harvesting geodata from Android devices amid fear of abortion-related prosecutions.

A coalition of Democratic lawmakers issued a call to Google on Tuesday to stop the collection and retention of personal user data pertaining to online inquiries regarding abortion access.

Outlined in a letter, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., lead the request along with 40 other congresspeople warning Google of the danger sensitive data poses if accessed by “extremist prosecutors.”

This letter comes as a recent document leak revealed the landmark Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade is threatened, revealed with Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion.

“We believe that abortion is health care. We will fight tooth and nail to ensure that it remains recognized as a fundamental right, and that all people in the United States have control over their own bodies,” the letter reads. “That said, we are concerned that, in a world in which abortion could be made illegal, Google’s current practice of collecting and retaining extensive records of cell phone location data will allow it to become a tool for far-right extremists looking to crack down on people seeking reproductive health care.”

The letter—addressed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai—specifically cites the practice of storing data collected within Google’s Android smartphones, which is in turn sent back to Google. 

Although most of this data is used for business operations like advertising revenue, law enforcement entities are able to obtain court orders to access this information. Some of the data lawmakers are most concerned with is in relation to the dragnet “geofence” that is collected when a phone is in any given location. 

For Americans seeking abortion access, this information could reveal where they are or were. This lack of privacy has raised concerns of being used against women seeking abortion access based on their state of residence. 

“If abortion is made illegal by the far-right Supreme Court and Republican lawmakers, it is inevitable that right-wing prosecutors will obtain legal warrants to hunt down, prosecute and jail women for obtaining critical reproductive health care,” the letter continues. “The only way to protect your customers’ location data from such outrageous government surveillance is to not keep it in the first place.”

Apple doesn’t share Google’s data collection and storage practices, making iPhone users relatively safer with greater privacy protections.

“We urge you to promptly reform your data collection and retention practices, so that

Google no longer collects unnecessary customer location data nor retains any non-aggregate

location data about individual customers, whether in identifiable or anonymized form,” the legislators conclude. “Google cannot allow its online advertising-focused digital infrastructure to be weaponized against women.”

Other signatories of the letter are Sens. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Judy Chu, D-Calif., and Jake Auchincloss, D-Mass., among others