Google is implementing an update that will limit the default local search results for such queries to only showing verified abortion providers. The company was criticized by lawmakers for providing false search results to people looking for abortion clinics, which led to the decision.
In response to inquiries from Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), the updated policy was described by Mark Isakowitz, Google’s vice president of U.S. and Canada Government Affairs and Public Policy.
The lawmakers urged Google to crack down on results that pointed to “anti-abortion fake clinics” when users searched for “abortion clinic near me” or “abortion pill” in a letter sent just before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which protected the right to an abortion on a federal level.
Isakowitz stated in the letter dated Thursday that “We continue to update our Local Search services for local health-related queries, including those related to abortion services, to improve the accuracy and relevance.” “The Local Search results box will show locations that have been verified to provide abortions when someone in the US searches for healthcare providers that perform abortions, for example using the query “abortion clinics near me”.”
Users will still have the option to view a wider variety of results, including those from organizations that don’t offer abortions, according to Isakowitz. Those local search outcomes will continue to be labeled to state whether or not facilities offer abortions.
Additionally, he pointed out that Google had recently increased the visibility of disclosures on ads for abortion-related services that state whether or not a facility offers abortions.
A company spokesperson stated in a statement, “When people use Google to find local information, we aim to help them easily explore the range of places available so they can determine which are most helpful to them.
“We’ve been working for many months on more useful ways to display those results for a number of categories where we’ve received confirmation that certain locations offer particular services. We are now releasing an update that will help people find businesses that provide the services they are looking for or expand their search results to see more options.
According to the spokesperson, the new standard will also apply to other medical-related searches where Google has verified the services offered, such as searches for veterans hospitals. Google will also give users the option to look further away if the service they are looking for in a particular area is not found.
The update was praised by Warner in a statement.
He said, “I applaud the changes that Google has announced today to ensure that women seeking abortion services aren’t directed towards fake clinics that peddle false information and don’t offer complete health services.” Importantly, this isn’t about stifling speech or limiting freedom of expression; rather, it’s about providing users with information that is pertinent to their searches and returning search results that accurately address their queries.
Google announced in July that it would make efforts to promptly delete location history for users visiting abortion clinics or other medical sites shortly after the court overturned the Roe decision. Privacy experts have called for tech companies to take action to limit their data retention as a result of concerns raised about how searches, text messages, location data, and other information could be used against abortion seekers and their providers under restrictive abortion laws.