Reproductive rights advocates have been sounding the alarm on Google for years over its role in misdirecting abortion seekers to anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers. One study last year found that, in abortion-hostile states, nearly 40 percent of Google Maps search results for abortion clinics are CPCs, which pose as abortion clinics, force disproven lies about abortion down visitors’ throats, and often surveil and harass abortion seekers. In 2019, Google awarded a $150,000 grant in free advertising to the anti-abortion network Obria.
Now, a new report has revealed that Google particularly targets low-income users with ads for anti-abortion clinics, according to the Tech Transparency Project, as reported in the Guardian. The group conducted an experiment that went like this:
The researchers set up test accounts in three cities—Atlanta, Miami and Phoenix—for women of three different income groups suggested by Google: average or lower-income rate, moderately high-income rate and high-income rate. They then entered search terms like “abortion clinic near me” and “I want an abortion.”
Georgia, Florida, and Arizona all have abortion bans that are currently active, or paused while being challenged in court. As a result, for users in Phoenix, 56 percent of search ads shown to the “low- to moderate-income” users were for CPCs. In contrast, just 41 percent of ads shown to “moderately high-income” users and 7 percent of “high-income” users were for CPCs. In other words, lower-income abortion seekers are more likely to be exposed to ads pushing anti-abortion disinformation. “[CPCs] know they’re selling a product that no one wants: stigma and disinformation. The anti-abortion movement preys on people they perceive as powerless and with nowhere else to go,” Shireen Shakouri, deputy director of Reproaction, told Jezebel in a statement. Reproaction keeps a database of anti-abortion clinics across the country.
Upon being directed by Google’s ads to crisis pregnancy centers’ websites, abortion seekers are vulnerable to having their personal data collected and stored by these groups. This is especially concerning as anti-abortion state governments increasingly form partnerships with CPCs and continue to funnel millions in taxpayer dollars to them.
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Meanwhile, Google has continued to collect location data from users’ visits to abortion clinics and other sensitive facilities like fertility clinics, counseling centers, and domestic violence shelters, despite promising last summer, after the fall of Roe v. Wade, that it would automatically delete this data.
That data collection poses a significant risk to pregnant people, whose digital footprints have frequently been used against them when they face criminal charges for their pregnancy outcomes or abortions. The Tech Transparency Project’s new research suggests that lower-income people are more likely to be implicated. In a statement shared with Jezebel, a spokesperson for Google denied that the company “[allows] advertisers to specifically target a ‘low income’ bracket with ads,” and maintains that the company has “strict rules about how location can be used to serve locally relevant ads.” The spokesperson added that Google updated its policies last year to require organizations seeking to advertise on the website to “disclose whether they do or do not offer abortions.”
CPCs often exploit the economic desperation of lower-income people by requiring pregnant people in need of parenting resources to complete Bible classes to earn “free” diapers. “They offer free ultrasounds, financial assistance, all the resources necessary, and make it very tempting to lean on them,” Olivia Raisner, a Mayday Health researcher who went undercover inside a CPC, told Jezebel in December. “Unfortunately, we know they’re fake medical clinics whose only agenda is to spread lies, to shame people away from abortion.”
Abortion Access Front’s Expose Fake Clinics campaign has highlighted what horrors often transpire inside crisis pregnancy centers. One person told the campaign that a staffer at an anti-abortion clinic “began calling her almost daily and telling her that she would die, or end up in hell, or get very sick if she were to go through with the abortion.” Others told the campaign they were forced to sign contracts pledging to not have an abortion before exiting the clinic. In her experience, Raisner told Jezebel that CPC workers told her that having an abortion would make her suicidal.