Google Announces New Measures to Protect User Privacy on Healthcare Matters

Google has announced that it will be taking steps to improve privacy protections for users of its services. Google has long advocated for a comprehensive, national privacy law covering consumer data to ensure there is consistency across the entire country, rather than relying on a patchwork of state-level privacy laws. The American Data Privacy and Protection Act that was recently introduced could see national privacy law introduced, but until ADPPA or equivalent consumer data privacy regulations are signed into law, Google said it has taken additional steps to protect user privacy, especially for health-related issues.

Google confirmed that location history is turned off in Google accounts by default, but if users choose to activate location history, they can auto-delete or manually delete parts or all of their location data at any time. However, to further protect privacy, Google has added a new auto-delete feature that will be rolled out in the next few weeks. If Google detects a user has visited certain medical facilities that offer sensitive medical services, the entries will be automatically deleted from the user’s location history soon after the visit.

Those locations include:

  • Abortion clinics
  • Domestic violence shelters
  • Counseling centers
  • Fertility centers
  • Addiction treatment facilities
  • Weight loss clinics
  • Cosmetic surgery centers

On Google Play there are policies that prevent app developers from selling personal and sensitive user data, developers are required to only handle data for purposes directly related to the use of the app, and any data collected must be handled securely. A new data safety section has now been added that developers can use to provide app users with more information about how their apps collect, share, and secure user data.

Please see the HIPAA Journal Privacy Policy

Users of Google Fit and Fitbit have access to tools that allow them to easily access and control their personal data, including the option to change or delete their tracking data as they see fit. “Fitbit users who have chosen to track their menstrual cycles in the app can currently delete menstruation logs one at a time, and we will be rolling out updates that let users delete multiple logs at once,” explained Google.

Google has also clarified its position regarding law enforcement demands for user data. “We take into account the privacy and security expectations of people using our products, and we notify people when we comply with government demands, unless we’re prohibited from doing so or lives are at stake — such as in an emergency situation,” explained Google in a recent blog post. “We remain committed to protecting our users against improper government demands for data, and we will continue to oppose demands that are overly broad or otherwise legally objectionable.”

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.