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Google workers sign petition asking company to protect people's abortion search data

Workers at Google's parent company Alphabet want to better protect people's abortion-related location data and search history.
Marcio Jose Sanchez
Workers at Google's parent company Alphabet want to better protect people's abortion-related location data and search history.

About 650 Google workers have signed a petition asking the company to protect users' abortion-related location data and search history.

The move comes over concerns that law enforcement agencies will seek such data from Google to prosecute abortion seekers.

Workers sent the petition Wednesday to Google-parent Alphabet's top executives, including CEO Sundar Pichai. Most of the workers belong to the Alphabet Workers' Union, according to Bambi Okugawa, a spokesperson for the group.

"If Google or Facebook or any tech company wants to present the face of being a compassionate company and an ally for people that need reproductive health care or gender affirming health care, then they need to back that up in their actions by protecting privacy," said Okugawa, who works at a data center in Tennessee, where a law is going into effect this month that will outlaw abortion.

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, several states have passed anti-abortion laws that allow prosecutions or lawsuits against people who provide or assist in an abortion or help women cross state lines to obtain one.

Concerns over the role of technology in such prosecutions have ratcheted up in recent days, especially after it was revealed that Facebook had handed over private messages between a young woman and her mother in Nebraska to local law enforcement agencies that were investigating the death of a fetus.

The employees also want Google to remove fake abortion providers from search results and cut ties with publishers of unreliable healthcare information.

Okugawa said tech companies like Google have become key information providers and embedded in people's lives. So workers' demands provide an opportunity for the company to innovate.

"There are situations where a woman could die if she does not receive certain healthcare services," she said. "It's on the shoulders of tech companies to do what they can to protect them."

In July, Google said it automatically purges information about users who visit abortion clinics or other locations that could lead to legal problems.

Each year, Google responds to thousands of subpoenas and search warrants by providing user location and search data to law enforcement investigators.

The workers also demanded that the company provide travel benefits to contract staff who need to go out-of-state to get abortion services.

"It's very fair for us as a union to say you should provide to contractors — security staff and vendors — the same benefits that we get," Okugawa said, on behalf of Alphabet Workers' Union members.

Many tech companies, including Alphabet, recently announced policies to protect employees by paying for out-of-state travel to get abortion care. Google responded by sending NPR a link to benefit requirements for its contractors, which doesn't specify details related to such expenses.

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Raquel Maria Dillon
Raquel Maria Dillon has worked on both sides of the country, on both sides of the mic, at Member stations and now as an editor with Morning Edition. She specializes in documenting wildfires and other national disasters, translating the intricacies of policy into plain English and explaining the implications of climate change.