Google results for abortion clinics suggest ‘fake clinics’ ahead of SCOTUS ruling, lawmakers say

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US lawmakers are questioning Google over how the company’s search engine shows users in some states inaccurate results about abortion services by diverting them to ‘fake clinics’ that don’t provide the procedure and deter people to terminate a pregnancy.

In a letter sent on Friday In Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet, 20 Democratic members of Congress and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) urged the company to quickly rectify the search accuracy issue, noting that it is comes a U.S. Supreme Court ruling expected later this month could overturn abortion rights established in Roe vs. Wade.

What if Roe v. Wade was canceled

Lawmakers cited a recent report that found in states with abortion “trigger laws,” 11% of Google search results for abortion services led users to non-medical facilities that do not offer abortions; the result was 37% for Google Maps queries. The report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a US-based non-profit organization, also found that nearly 28% of Google ads that appear at the top of related search results pages were for anti-abortion clinics.

“Referring women to fake clinics that traffic in false information and don’t provide comprehensive health services is dangerous to women’s health and undermines the integrity of Google’s search results,” the Democrat said. . lawmakers wrote in the letter led by Sen. Mark R. Warner (Virginia) and Rep. Elissa Slotkin (Mich.).

Lawmakers have asked Google to either limit the appearance of false abortion clinic results when users search for “abortion clinic” or similar terms, or add more prominent disclaimers stating whether a facility provides abortion services; lawmakers and the CCHR say existing disclaimers are too small and easily missed.

The congressmen’s request comes after Google pledged in 2014 to remove ads from certain “crisis pregnancy centers” that violated the company’s policy against misleading advertising.

In a statement Saturday, a Google spokesperson said it continually strives to improve its search results to better serve users and said “any organization that wants to advertise to people searching for information on abortion services on Google should be approved and show disclosures in advertisements that clearly state whether or not they offer abortions.

The reproductive rights landscape in the United States is expected to change dramatically in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling, which could come as early as Monday. In addition to the 13 states that have already enacted “trigger laws” that effectively ban abortion for now deer is reversed, at least five others are expected to follow suit.

What are “trigger” laws and which states have them?

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have laws explicitly protecting abortion rights at the state level, according to Guttmacher Institute, a New York and Washington-based nonprofit research center that supports abortion rights. The remaining states have no specific law or unenforced bans on the books.

Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, told the Washington Post that the Supreme Court’s draft opinion that leaked in May has spurred “massive” growth globally in fundraising activities and creativity among groups seeking to undermine basic reproductive rights. Similar themes around reproductive rights and abortion misinformation emerge in KenyaLatin America and the UK, he said.

Countering misinformation through accurate search results is especially critical for Google given its global reach, Ahmed said. Google is by far the most popular search engine, with more than 90% of the global market shareaccording to the German Consumer Data Analysis Society, Statistical.

“When Google gets it wrong, it can have a huge impact on the whole world,” Ahmed said.

How Google’s search algorithm works is a closely guarded trade secret, but the company says in a public guide on its search engine that Google searches for web pages deemed relevant to a user’s search query, then returns results that it deems “of the highest quality and most relevant to the user”. Google said it uses “hundreds of factors,” including user location and language, to determine “relevance.”

But Ahmed said the search algorithm can be easily manipulated as it tries to determine which web pages are relevant, including by groups that create networks of interconnecting pages.

Fake abortion clinics, which often advertise themselves as “crisis pregnancy centers” or “pregnancy resource centers,” do not offer abortions, although critics say they try to create a medical establishment veneer by offering pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, or tests for sexually transmitted infections. infections. The Journal of Ethics of the American Medical Association has argued that while “crisis pregnancy centers” are legal, they are unethical “by providing misleading information and causing delays and inequities in abortion access.”

Instead, “crisis pregnancy center” sites actively discourage patients from choosing abortion, often through misinformation. Among the false claims made by bogus clinics cited in the CCDH report are that abortions will render a pregnant person infertile or that suicidal impulses are “common” after an abortion.

Ahmed pointed out that the pertinent criticism of bogus abortion clinics is not their ideology, but the deceptive tactics they use to trick people into behaving as they wish.

“People have a right to have an opinion on abortion,” he said. “But it’s [their] use of deception that makes her so malignant.

With disinformation and misinformation having a direct impact on people’s personal health, Ahmed said it’s crucial that major tech platforms act responsibly — and that policymakers hold them accountable.

“This is just another example of how hate and disinformation actors can weaponize digital platforms to cause real harm to people,” he said.

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