An anonymous woman has filed a lawsuit against Google over its data collection practices, and in the process, has exposed how both Planned Parenthood and Google utilize sensitive data to generate profit in alleged violation of women’s privacy.
The plantiff, Jane Doe, claims her private information was intercepted by Google when she used Planned Parenthood’s scheduling portion of the website while searching for an abortionist in 2018.
According to the complaint filed on May 12th of this year, “Google intercepted and collected their sensitive information, including their searches, inputs, health information relating to private, personal, sensitive medical appointments, medical conditions, specific treatments, messages to healthcare providers, and PII without consent.” The plaintiff has “a reasonable expectation of privacy in their confidential communications, including information relating to their searches for and scheduling of abortions and other medical services, and their sensitive medical information,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the use of tracking violates several laws, including the California Confidentiality of Medical Information Act (CMIA) and the California Invasion of Privacy Act (CIPA). The complaint also argues that Google violated California’s state constitution, which has strong privacy protections.
In June 2022, The Washington Post reported that Planned Parenthood’s web scheduler shares private data with third-party companies including Google, Facebook, TikTok, and Hotjar. According to the report, Planned Parenthood shared a large volume of information with Google, including “IP address, site visited, behavior on the site, reason for visiting (e.g., abortion), user’s selected method of abortion (e.g., surgical abortion/in-clinic), browser time zone, name of Planned Parenthood Health Center for appointment,” zip code, time stamp, and browser information.
The anonymous woman’s legal action comes after the tech giant pledged, in the wake of the Dobbs decision which overturned Roe v Wade, to delete users’ sensitive data such as “medical facilities like counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics, cosmetic surgery clinics,” the Guardian reports. A follow-up report by The Washington Post showed that Google has not yet substantially changed its practices.
When asked about these concerns, Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Lauren Kokum defended the practice as core to its business model. “Marketing is a necessary part of Planned Parenthood’s work to reach people who are seeking sexual and reproductive health care, education, and information,” she told The Washington Post. The abortion giant later stated it “will suspend marketing pixels on web pages related to abortion search,” according to Diana Contreras, chief health-care officer for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, as reported by The Post.
As Live Action has documented, Planned Parenthood, which has the largest market share of any abortion chain in the country at nearly 40.2%, “is focused on pushing profitable abortions, often at the expense of health care services for the women it claims to serve.” The use of advanced online advertisement trackers at the expense of privacy aligns with this prioritization.
But data privacy experts disagree with the abortion giant. “This was absolutely shocking,” said Johnny Lin, maker of Lockdown Privacy, an app designed to block online tracking, according to The Post. “We’ve analyzed and reviewed the tracking behaviors of hundreds of apps and websites, and it’s rare to see this degree of carelessness with sensitive health data.”
Senior staff technologist Cooper Quintin at the privacy advocacy organization Electronic Frontier Foundation agreed. “It’s really irresponsible of Planned Parenthood to be creating more data about the visitors to the website and more trails of evidence about the people that are seeking their services,” he said, according to The Post. “Planned Parenthood needs to — right now, right this second — minimize the amount of data that they are sharing with any outside party and minimize the amount of data that they are keeping.”
While abortion advocates have raised concerns over data harvesting from health or period tracking apps being used to prosecute women who obtain illegal abortions, to date, there is no evidence of this happening.
Editor’s Note 5/24/23: This article was updated with the most recent abortion market share percentage for Planned Parenthood.
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