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Googlers demand abortion searches ‘never be saved or treated as a crime’

Staff remind CEO 'don't be evil' and treat workers equally

Hundreds of Googlers this week demanded CEO Sundar Pichai do a better job protecting people seeking abortions by refusing to hand over to law enforcement any customer data that could be used to build a criminal case, and extending the health benefits full-time employees enjoy to contract workers.

On Monday, the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) sent a petition signed by more than 650 Alphabet workers to Pichai and five other executives calling on the tech giant to "immediately" implement several reproductive health care benefits and protections to "align with Google's core values."

As of Thursday, none of the Alphabet bosses had responded to the workers, according to a union spokesperson. The corporation, which employs about 160,000 people total, also did not respond to The Register's request for comment.

Hours after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, which set in motion trigger laws that made abortion illegal in some states, Alphabet Chief People Officer Fiona Cicconi sent a letter to staff. In it, she stated that Googlers and their dependents' health insurance covered out-of-state medical procedures not available where the employee lived and worked. 

Ie, they could get a legal abortion out of the state they live in and have Google cover it.

"Googlers can also apply for relocation without justification, and those overseeing this process will be aware of the situation," she wrote.

The petition, which was sent to Cicconi, among other top execs, demanded Alphabet protect all of its workers' access to abortion by doing the following:

  • Extending the same travel-for-healthcare benefits offered to full-time staffers to contract workers.
  • Adding a minimum of seven days of additional sick time to accommodate traveling out of state for health services.
  • Increasing reimbursement amounts for travel to $150 per night, up from $50, to full-time and contract employees.
  • Publishing a contract worker transparency report that details vendors' compliance With Alphabet's US Wages and Benefits Standards. 

"Google has been hiding behind their two-tiered system and taking advantage of their TVC [contract] employees for way too long," Emrys Adair, a retail associate at a Google contractor and member of AWU, told The Register. "We make less money, we don't get the full-time benefits, we are the ones who really end up needing access to reproductive health care the most."

Additionally, the petition calls on Alphabet to stop lobbying and contributing to politicians and political organizations "responsible for appointing the Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade and continue to infringe on other human rights issues related to voting access and gun control."

The third bucket of demands centers on protecting users data and preventing disinformation about abortion services across Alphabet's platforms. And it comes as Google Maps is under fire for directing women seeking abortions to so-called pregnancy crisis centers that try to talk women out of ending their unwanted pregnancies.

First, the signatories want Alphabet to immediately institute privacy controls for all health-related data. "For example, searching for reproductive justice, gender-affirming care, and abortion access information on Google must never be saved, handed over to law enforcement, or treated as a crime," the petition reads.

Google has already pledged to update its location history system so that visits to medical clinics and similarly sensitive places are automatically deleted. But privacy and reproductive rights advocates worry that other user data – such as instant messages – could be used to prosecute women seeking abortions or those that help them access medical services — along the lines of a Nebraska case in which Meta, after being serviced with a subpoena, handed over private Facebook chats of a mom and her 18-year-old daughter accused of seeking an illegal abortion.

"We're asking Google to figure out a way to protect their users' data and privacy a little bit better," Adair said. "They said they are committed to doing it but I feel they could be doing a lot more."

The petition also demands Google fix misleading abortion-related search results by removing fake abortion providers, and refuse to work with anyone that violates AdSense's publishers policies related to unreliable and harmful claims about health crises.

Finally, the workers want transparency into ad revenue sharing so abortion providers that pay for Google ads don't have to worry about their ad revenue supporting pregnancy crisis centers and other organizations working to dismantle reproductive rights.

To ensure that Alphabet makes good on these health-care and privacy concerns, the employees want the company to create a dedicated task force with 50 percent worker representation "just like Alphabet did for handling the COVID-19 pandemic," according to the petition. ®

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