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Google is failing to uphold post-Roe privacy pledge, Democrats say
Senate Democrats are demanding answers from Google after an investigation by Washington Post columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler found that the tech giant is at times still retaining location history for users after they visit sensitive locations, like abortion clinics and hospitals, in conflict with its promise to scrub that information.
The findings, the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Monday, raise concerns that the company “is not upholding its commitment to delete sensitive location data, particularly when it can reveal private health care decisions.”
After the Supreme Court struck down the federal right to abortion last year by overturning Roe v. Wade, Google announced amid pressure that it would proactively delete users’ location histories “soon after they visit” places that are “particularly personal,” such as a medical clinic.
But Geoffrey’s investigation found that after a dozen visits to abortion clinics, medical centers and fertility specialists in California, Google repeatedly retained a map of his activity.
A separate review by the left-leaning advocacy group Accountable Tech generated similar findings, with Google failing to delete location data in more than half of their visits.
“No one should be tracked or targeted for their personal health decisions. But that’s exactly what Big Tech’s business model of surveillance advertising right now is designed to do,” Accountable Tech policy manager Aditi Ramesh told Geoffrey.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and other lawmakers are now calling on Google to explain the apparent discrepancy, suggesting it could run afoul of federal rules against misleading trade practices.
“Claiming and publicly announcing that Google will delete sensitive location data, without consistently doing so, could be considered a deceptive practice,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter shared exclusively with The Technology 202.
Google referred an inquiry to a blog post Google senior vice president Jen Fitzpatrick released after Geoffrey’s report to “clarify additional details” about its location history pledge.
While location history tracking is off by default, Fizpatrick wrote, Google still plans to delete entries from “certain locations that can be particularly personal” if the feature is enabled “soon after you visit.” (The company has declined to say how long after it does so.)
But the data may still “persist,” Fitzpatrick wrote, if a user visits a “general purpose medical facility” or if they “manually add or confirm a visit to a particularly personal place.”
Democrats and reproductive rights groups have pressured tech companies to scale back their collection practices after the Supreme Court ruling amid fears that information could be seized by authorities and used to prosecute those seeking abortions.
The issue spotlights the lack of federal privacy protections in the United States, with some congressional Democrats pushing for new rules aimed at expanding safeguards for sensitive health data and location data that could be obtained by law enforcement.
But in lieu of action on Capitol Hill, lawmakers at the state level are forging ahead with their own efforts to pass protections for reproductive health data, with Washington state last month signing a first-of-its-kind law putting limits on the collection and sale of sensitive health data.
Lawmakers are now calling on the company to disclose more specifics, including a full list of what it considers a “sensitive” location, what data it uses to make that call, how long it stores that information and whether that data is used to run ads.
And they are pressing for a firmer pledge, asking the company to commit to deleting sensitive location data “within 24 hours of a user’s visit” and to “agree to a third-party audit to verify that such a protocol has been successfully implemented.” They are seeking answers by Friday.
Our top tabs
DeSantis to announce 2024 presidential bid in Twitter Spaces with Musk
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) will announce his 2024 presidential bid Wednesday evening during a Twitter Spaces event with platform CEO Elon Musk, our colleagues Hannah Knowles and Faiz Siddiqui report, citing two people familiar with the planning of the appearance.
The Spaces discussion will be moderated by David Sacks, an investor and former PayPal executive who has expressed interest in a DeSantis presidency. The long-expected announcement comes as donors gather in Miami to hear from the governor’s campaign team and kick off fundraising.
“Musk has met privately with DeSantis and praised him publicly in the fall, saying he would back the governor if he ran for the president, but he has yet to endorse a candidate and recently praised Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), another contender for the GOP nomination,” they write.
Musk at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit this week did not specify his preference for who should serve as U.S. president. He said he would like a president that has “the moderate views that I think most of the country holds.”
White House, surgeon general warn of social media’s increased risk to children, convene task force
The White House and surgeon general on Tuesday warned that social media platforms pose risks to children and teens’ mental health and convened a task force to study how social media affects young people, Rebecca Kern reports for Politico.
“The task force … would be led by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Commerce Department, and will review existing tech industry efforts to promote health and safety; provide best practices to help guardians protect their kids’ health and safety online; and provide recommendations by the spring of 2024 for the industry to design safer and more privacy-protective products for kids,” Kern writes.
The warning comes as Congress reintroduces legislation aimed at boosting protections for kids online while state governments forge ahead with their own kids online safety bills.
A recent report from the American Psychological Association indicates that while scrutiny over social media’s impact on kids’ health is soaring, studies showing direct harm are still somewhat rare, The Technology 202 previously reported.
White House taking new steps to study AI risks with updated research road map and public inquiry
The White House on Tuesday launched additional steps to study artificial intelligence risks, including a new research and development (R&D) road map for federal investments in AI and a request to the public to comment on how the emerging technology has affected their lives.
The announcement comes as Congress hears from AI experts and works to shore up its own AI regulation framework. AI tools have gained popularity for their ability to communicate intelligently and streamline tasks, but have drawn concerns about how they perpetuate biases and produce inaccurate accounts.
The National Science and Technology Council released an updated R&D framework that aims to promote responsible American innovation, serve the public good, protect people’s rights and safety, and uphold democratic values, according to the announcement.
The administration’s public input request seeks feedback on “national priorities for mitigating AI risks, protecting individuals’ rights and safety, and harnessing AI to improve lives,” the announcement adds. The input will be used alongside other federal efforts to craft a national AI strategy, according to the White House.
Rant and rave
Twitter reacts to news of DeSantis launching his presidential bid on Twitter Spaces with Musk. Sopan Deb from the New York Times:
announcing my run for president tomorrow live with lukas matsson— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) May 23, 2023
Independent tech and innovation writer E.B. Boyd:
This needs to be analyzed the same way we’d analyze any business co-branding event — & assess what novel downstream implications it introduces, given that this doesn’t usually happen in politics https://t.co/wrDlaPHrsx— E.B. Boyd (Liza) (@ebboyd) May 23, 2023
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes:
Two of the most charming, charismatic and relatable men you could possibly think of.https://t.co/16gyJ4E1gu— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) May 23, 2023
Inside the industry
China presses Dutch minister for access to chipmaking tech blocked on security grounds (The Associated Press)
- FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr speaks at the Safer Buildings Coalition’s Wireless Tech and Policy Summit beginning at 8 a.m.
- The American Enterprise Institute holds an event titled “Where’s the Broadband Money Going? Tracking Impact and Accountability” at 2 p.m.
- The Center for Democracy and Technology holds an event on large-language models and a separate event on E.U. data regulations both at 10 a.m.
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May 24, 2023
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