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US lawmakers call on Google to label or restrict search results for ‘fake’ abortion clinics

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A group of US lawmakers has signed a letter to Google urging the company to reevaluate its treatment of search results directing users to anti-abortion crisis centers rather than legitimate clinics, as first reported by Reuters† Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and Representative Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) are leading the initiative, while several other Democratic lawmakers have signed the letter in support.

The letter cites research published by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), which focuses on Google search results in “trigger law states” – or the 13 states where abortion becomes illegal if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Research shows that 11 percent of Google searches in trigger states for “abortion clinic near me” and “abortion pill” take users to ‘fake’ clinics trying to discourage women of having an abortion. The problem is even bigger on Google Maps, as the CCDH found that 37 percent of abortion-related map searches led to fake clinics.

In their letter to Google, lawmakers ask the search giant whether it will restrict or label these types of results in the future. “Directing women to fake clinics that disseminate misinformation and fail to provide comprehensive health services is dangerous to women’s health and undermines the integrity of Google’s search results,” the letter said. “If Google is to continue showing these misleading results in search results and Google Maps, the results should at least be properly labeled.”

Ads on Google also seem to be affected by the problem — according to the CCDH, nearly 28 percent of ads appearing at the top of search results pages for abortion-related questions were related to anti-choice clinics. In 2019, Google began requiring companies that display abortion ads to certify whether they offer abortions or not. For companies that don’t actually do the procedure, Google puts a “No abortions” disclaimer below the ad, but the CCDH comments some users may not always notice

“Any organization that wants to advertise to people seeking information about abortion services on Google must certified and display disclosures in ads that clearly state whether or not they offer abortion,” Google spokesperson Nicolas Lopez said in an emailed statement to The edge† “We’re always looking for ways to improve our results so people can find what they’re looking for, or understand if what they’re looking for isn’t available.”

The Supreme Court is expects to announce its decision on Roe v. Wade in the coming days, but a leaked draft decision obtained by Politics could mean that the Court intends to overturn the landmark ruling. In preparation for the impending decision, another group of Democratic lawmakers is urging Google to stop collecting location data from Android users, as this information could potentially be used to prosecute someone who had an abortion in a state that is against the procedure.


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