Google Says It Will Automatically Delete Location Data Collected From Visits to Health Facilities

Jen Fitzpatrick, SVP of “Core” at Google:

Location History is a Google account setting that is off by default, and for those that turn it on, we provide simple controls like auto-delete so users can easily delete parts, or all, of their data at any time. Some of the places people visit — including medical facilities like counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics, cosmetic surgery clinics, and others — can be particularly personal. Today, we’re announcing that if our systems identify that someone has visited one of these places, we will delete these entries from Location History soon after they visit. This change will take effect in the coming weeks.

I think there may be many people realizing for the first time that Google was tracking their time in an addictions treatment facility or an abortion clinic. Even the biggest privacy nihilist who assumes Google tracks them everywhere must have, from time to time, a revelation of Google’s awareness of specific moments of their day.

Regardless, it is unclear to me whether removing these destinations from a user’s Location History will truly eradicate these visits from their account. A 2018 AP investigation found users’ physical locations were also recorded in other parts of their Google account, often under labels not immediately related to local functionality. To stop recording addresses a user entered in Google Maps and wayfinding directions, for example, a user would need to disable Web & App Activity. In 2019, Google began automatically deleting some history from Web & App Activity on a rolling eighteen-month basis.