Google Maps, search results to point women to actual abortion providers
And not the fake ones that just try to change their minds
Google search results and Maps will clearly label healthcare clinics that provide abortion services, reducing the chances that women in crisis will be misdirected to "clinics" that don't in fact offer healthcare.
The move follows the US Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v Wade in June, which set in motion trigger laws that made abortion illegal in some states.
According to a Google spokesperson, the updates have been in the works "for many months." It's worth noting, however, that the tech giant has been under fire from lawmakers and its own employees over search and Maps results directing those seeking an abortion to so-called pregnancy crisis clinics – where women are counselled against ending their pregnancies – instead of healthcare facilities that provide the procedure.
Per the updates, queries for places that provide abortions will now display a label that states "provides abortions" if Google can confirm the facility does, in fact, offer the procedure, a spokesperson told The Register.
For other locations that might, but for which Google doesn't have confirmation, it will say "might not provide abortions."
As to how Google will confirm whether a clinic provides abortion, the all-knowing data collector has its ways, and we don't (necessarily) mean surveillance.
According to a spokesperson, Google gets confirmation the old-fashioned way: picking up the phone and calling businesses directly. Oh, and it also uses "authoritative data sources." Hmmm.
We're now rolling out an update that makes it easier for people to find places that offer the services they've searched for
Google also wants to make it easier to expand a search for abortion providers. To this end, it will let users know if there are no relevant places nearby, and will give an option to "search farther away" – which, of course, may be useful to women who live in states where abortion is now illegal.
This change won't only apply to abortion providers. Other places – like mental health clinics, physiotherapy centers and travel clinics – will also be included in the farther-away searches, and Google plans to expand this feature, the spokesperson said.
"When people turn to 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," according to a statement provided to The Register. "We're now rolling out an update that makes it easier for people to find places that offer the services they've searched for, or broaden their results to see more options."
These changes come about a week after hundreds of Googlers demanded CEO Sundar Pichai do a better job protecting people seeking abortions and extending the health benefits full-time employees enjoy to contract workers.
Last week the Alphabet Workers Union sent a petition signed by more than 650 Alphabet workers to Pichai and five other executives calling on the tech giant to implement several reproductive healthcare benefits and user protections "immediately" – such as fixing misleading abortion-related searches and Maps queries.
- Googlers demand abortion searches 'never be saved or treated as a crime'
- Google promises to adjust search algorithm to favor 'people-first content'
- Google location tracking to forget you were ever at that medical clinic
- Mozilla finds 18 of 25 popular reproductive health apps share your data
Even before the Supreme Court tossed Roe, US lawmakers sent their own letter to Pichai urging him to do something about misleading search results and ads that direct users to anti-abortion clinics that try to talk women out of ending their unwanted pregnancies.
In the letter, they noted that 37 percent of Google Maps results and 11 percent of Google search results for "abortion clinic near me" and "abortion pill" in states with abortion bans were for these so-called pregnancy crisis centers. One of the Alphabet employees' demands is that Google fix this by removing fake abortion providers from these queries.
The Alphabet Workers Union called the new labels "a big deal for users who've been misled by pregnancy crisis centers masquerading as abortion providers — a big win," in a tweet on Thursday.
"But not enough – Google must *remove* these misleading results, as we've called for," it added.
A union spokesperson told The Register that the workers still hadn't received any response from Alphabet's leaders. As of Tuesday, 710 employees had signed the petition. ®