WASHINGTON (VR) – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) led colleagues in a letter to the CEO of Alphabet Inc. and its subsidiary Google, Sundar Pichai, urging him to take action to prevent misleading Google search results and ads that lead to anti-abortion clinics.
In the letter, the lawmakers note 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 so-called “trigger laws” – laws that would effectively ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned – were for anti-abortion clinics. Additionally, 28 percent of Google ads displayed at the top of search results were for anti-abortion clinics. Amid a draft opinion of a Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe and the passage of several state laws that would curtail access to reproductive health care, the lawmakers are pushing for quick action to display accurate information.
“Directing women towards fake clinics that traffic in misinformation and don’t provide comprehensive health services is dangerous to women’s health and undermines the integrity of Google’s search results,” wrote the lawmakers. “Google should not be displaying anti-abortion fake clinics or crisis pregnancy centers in search results for users that are searching for an ‘abortion clinic’ or ‘abortion pill.’ If Google must continue showing these misleading results in search results and Google Maps, the results should, at the very least, be appropriately labeled.”
In addition to Sen. Warner and Rep. Slotkin, the letter was also signed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Tina Smith (D-MN). It was also signed by Reps. Don Beyer (D-VA), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Jason Crow (D-CO), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Katie Porter (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Jackie Speier (D-CA).
The lawmakers requested Sundar Pichai respond to the letter and provide:
1. A plan to limit anti-abortion clinics in Google search results, ads, and Maps
2. A plan to add disclaimers that clearly indicate whether a search result does or does not provide abortions
3. Information on Google’s attempts to provide accurate search results pertaining to health care
Sen. Warner has been a longtime supporter of both abortion rights and increasing transparency online. He is a cosponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade, and several pieces of tech legislation that would promote transparency and curb manipulative patterns.
Text of the letter is below.
Dear Mr. Pichai,
We write today regarding disturbing new reports that Google has been directing users who search for abortion services towards anti-abortion ‘fake clinics,’ also known as ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ or ‘pregnancy resource centers’ without any disclaimer indicating these businesses do not provide abortions and seek to steer women away from certain health decisions. In the wake of the leaked Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade, we find these reports especially concerning and would appreciate your immediate attention to this matter.
According to research by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a U.S.-based nonprofit that fights online hate and misinformation, 11% of results for searches for “abortion clinic near me” and “abortion pill” in states with so-called ‘Trigger Laws’ – laws that would effectively ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned – were for anti-abortion fake clinics. Directing women towards fake clinics that traffic in misinformation and don’t provide comprehensive health services is dangerous to women’s health and undermines the integrity of Google’s search results.
This problem is even more pronounced on Google Maps, where CCDH found that 37% of search results were for anti-abortion fake clinics. Google should not be displaying anti-abortion fake clinics or crisis pregnancy centers in search results for users that are searching for an ‘abortion clinic’ or ‘abortion pill.’ If Google must continue showing these misleading results in search results and Google Maps, the results should, at the very least, be appropriately labeled.
CCDH also found that 28% of Google Ads displayed at the top of search results were for anti-abortion fake clinics. Since facing criticism over misleading ads related to anti-abortion fake clinics in 2019, Google has provided a disclaimer – albeit one that appears in small font and is easily missed – for ads from anti-abortion fake clinics. However, no such warning is present on non-sponsored search results on Google Search. The prevalence of these misleading ads marks what appears to be a concerning reversal from Google’s pledge in 2014 to take down ads from crisis pregnancy centers that engage in overt deception of women seeking out abortion information online.
Given this disturbing research, we would appreciate answers to the following questions:
1. What steps will Google take to limit the appearance of anti-abortion fake clinics or so-called ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ in Google search results, Google Ads, and on Google Maps when users search for “abortion clinic,” “abortion pill,” or similar terms?
2. If Google will not take action to prevent anti-abortion fake clinics from appearing in search results, will Google add user-friendly disclaimers that clearly indicate whether or not a search result does or does not provide abortions?
3. What additional steps will Google take to ensure that users are receiving accurate information when they search for health care services like abortion on Google Search and Google Maps when users search for “abortion clinic,” “abortion pill,” or similar terms?
We urge you to take action to rectify these issues and help ensure women seeking health care services are directed to the basic information they request. Many thanks for your consideration, and we look forward to your timely response.
The Virginian Review has been serving Covington, Clifton Forge, Alleghany County and Bath County since 1914.