Jun 19, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Some Democrats urge Google to fix search results leading to fake abortion clinics

Google search engine

Photo: Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A group of Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Friday urging Google to take steps to fix the search engine's display of inaccurate results to users searching for abortion services.

Why it matters: The 20 Democratic lawmakers, alongside independent Bernie Sanders, wrote that Google's provision of inaccurate results was "especially concerning" given the Supreme Court's looming decision on abortion rights, which could see the court overturn Roe v. Wade.

The big picture: The lawmakers wrote in the letter that Google search results have directed users looking for abortion services to "fake clinics" that don't provide abortions and actually dissuade people from seeking the procedure.

  • The letter cited a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which found that in states with abortion "trigger laws," 11% of results for searches for "abortion clinic near me" and "abortion pill" led users to anti-abortion fake clinics. The report found the phenomenon was even higher in Google Maps, at 37%.
  • The report also found that 28% of Google ads shown at the top of the search results were for anti-abortion fake clinics, with disclaimers — when they did appear — printed in small font. The lawmakers termed this a "concerning reversal" of a 2014 pledge by Google to take down ads for “crisis pregnancy centers” that overtly deceive women seeking abortion services.
  • The lawmakers laid out three questions to Pichai, asking what steps Google will take to limit results for anti-abortion fake clinics, whether Google will include user-friendly disclaimers on the misleading search results, and what additional steps Google will take to ensure users seeking abortion services receive accurate information.

What they're saying: "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," the lawmakers wrote.

  • A Google spokesperson said in a statement Saturday that the company continually seeks to improve its search results and that "any organization that wants to advertise to people seeking information about abortion services on Google must be certified and show in-ad disclosures that clearly state whether they do or do not offer abortions," the Washington Post reported.
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