Why Google’s latest data protection decision is more of a hype

The end of the right to abortion in the United States, by decision of the Supreme Court, generates many reactions within American society. Several Tech giants have had to take the time to review the operation of some of their applications, particularly in terms of the data collected and potentially accessible.

Delete data from “sensitive locations”

Google has thus announced that it will automatically delete the data collected during the visit of users to “sensitive places”. In the list of sites concerned, we find… hospitals and centers that practice abortion. While by default Google’s location history is disabled on Android, the search engine has claimed that it will now delete the passage in these sensitive places.

“Some places visited [par nos utilisateurs] – including medical establishments such as counseling centres, for women victims of domestic violence, hospitals carrying out abortions, centers for the fight against addictions, for weight loss, cosmetic surgery or others – are of a particularly private”indicates Google in an article published on its site and relayed by the Guardian.

If the timing leaves little doubt, Google does not justify this choice in reaction to the decision of the American justice.

Many requests from the authorities

Although the decision was welcomed by many associations for the defense of citizens and women’s rights, who feared the use of this data by the authorities in order to be able to prosecute women seeking an abortion, does the decision change? basically things?

“A company like Google is sovereign: it is very difficult to force it to share data. Take Twitter: when Trump was president, the social network decided that it could no longer have an account, and it could not do anything even being president. So American companies have a lot of data sovereignty”explains Axel Legay, professor at UCLouvain and expert in cybersecurity. “There are of course secret agreements with organizations like the NSA to recover data, but in absolute terms, going to recover data hidden by these companies is very complicated.”

An announcement effect more than anything else?

US law enforcement agencies regularly access data held by private companies through various mechanisms, including legal requests. Between January and June 2021, Google received 149,000 requests, and granted the request in … 78% of cases, informs its transparency report. “We confirm our commitment to protect our users’ data against inappropriate requests”said Google again.

“A bit like in Belgium, the sharing of private data with the justice system depends on regulations, of which the user must be informed. The justice system will sometimes force sharing, but these companies are big machines. think, in the context of Google for example, that they are necessarily close to the American government. They have points of attachment, but the company remains sovereign”further details Axel Legay.

For him, Google’s statements also concern more the subject of society than technical operation. “This decision marks a divisiveness, a sign that they will not work with the US government on this issue, and the US government will have very little power to compel the company to do so. So I see these statements more as a side effect. announcement to show this disagreement with what is happening”he continues. “Things would have been different if, for example, the US administration had given Google the task of listing places that practice abortion, which is not the case. It is also possible legally to seize an institution for him order to collaborate with the state, but this has rarely been seen in democracies”, he finishes.

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