Google and a Delicate, Sensitive, Explosive, and Difficult Topic

June 24, 2022

Google Gets Political In Abortion Search Results

As a tech giant, Google officially has a nonpartisan stake in politics, but the truth is that it influences politicians and has its digital fingers in many politically charged issues. One of them is abortion. According to the Guardian, the search engine giant is: “Google Misdirects One In 10 Searches For Abortion To ‘Pregnancy Crisis Centers.’”

While Google claims its search results are organic and any sponsored content is marked with an “ad” tag, that is only a partial truth. Google tracks user search information, including location to customize results. Inherently. this is not a bad thing, but it does create a “wearing blinders in an echo chamber” situation and also censors information. If a user is located in a US “trigger state,” where abortion might become illegal if the US Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, a user will be sent to a “pregnancy crisis center” that does not provide abortion for every 1 in 10 searches. These centers do not provide truthful information in regards to abortion:

“In more than a dozen such trigger-law states, researchers found, 11% of Google search results for “abortion clinic near me” and “abortion pill” led to “crisis pregnancy centers”, according to misinformation research non-profit Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH). These clinics market themselves as healthcare providers but have a “shady, harmful agenda”, according to the reproductive health non-profit Planned Parenthood, offering no health services and aiming instead to dissuade people from having abortions.”

Unfortunately these false abortion clinics outnumber real clinics 3 to 1 and there are 2,600 operating in the US. Researchers discovered that 37% of Google Maps searches sent users to these fake clinics and 28% of search results had ads for them. Google labels anti-abortion advertising with a “does not provide abortions” disclaimer, these ads appear in abortion-related searchers.

Google has a policy that any organization wanting to advertise to abortion service seekers must be certified and state if they provide said services or not in their ads. Google also claims it always wants to improve its results, especially for health-related topics.

While this is a benign form of censorship and propagating misinformation compared to China, North Korea, and Russia, it is still in the same pool and is harmful to people.

Whitney Grace, June 24, 2022

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