Starting Tuesday, Yelp will do what Google won’t, and shield pregnant people from being deceived by anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers. Yelp has added a consumer notice to listings for CPCs that emphasizes how these facilities “provide limited medical services and may not have licensed medical professionals onsite.” Crisis pregnancy centers exist to prey on often low-income pregnant people seeking abortion care, where they then subject them to terrifying disinformation about abortion to persuade them to remain pregnant, and often collect and possibly share their private health data. Despite this, Google continues to prominently feature CPCs among its search engine results, at the peril of abortion seekers.
“Often, people think of Yelp and think of restaurants, but it’s a source that a lot of people go to when they’re looking at all sorts of different businesses and services,” Shireen Shakouri, deputy director of Reproaction, told Jezebel. Shakouri notes that for years, abortion rights advocates have left Yelp reviews on CPCs specifying that they’re “fake clinics,” but this additional step by Yelp “adds an important layer of trust.”
Since 2018, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman directed the company to distinguish CPCs from abortion providers, resulting in many being recategorized as “crisis pregnancy centers” rather than abortion clinics, according to Axios. But the company’s move on Wednesday is especially important as it explicitly states that CPCs—which receive massive amounts of public funding—often don’t have actual licensed health care workers. As Jezebel has previously reported, few provide ultrasounds and pregnancy tests that meet medical standards, and because they aren’t actual health care providers, they aren’t subject to HIPAA privacy standards about sharing patient data.
Yelp is one of few tech companies to take meaningful action to protect consumers from fake clinics. In contrast, one study found in abortion-hostile states, nearly 40 percent of Google Maps search results for abortion care are crisis pregnancy centers. Twenty-eight percent of the ads they’ll see at the top of their Google search results for abortion are fake clinics. Google has even gone so far as awarding a $150,000 grant in free advertising to the crisis pregnancy center network Obria. Since covid, Shakouri notes that for better and worse, the internet has become a vital resource for health-related information—disinformation about anything, especially abortion, comes with a significant risk: “Abortion is a type of health care that’s time-sensitive, and people getting the wrong information at fake clinics can lead them to making decisions that are detrimental to their health in long-term ways.”
Meta—the parent company of Instagram, Facebook, and Whatsapp—has recently been in the news for sharing a Nebraska teen’s text messages about abortion with police, resulting in her arrest. But before that, a Vice News report shined light on how Meta has been sharing abortion seekers’ data with CPCs. The company has also been accused of employing double standards when it comes to moderating content from abortion rights supporters and anti-abortion disinformation.
Amid a rise in bills to formally establish contracts between CPCs and state governments and ensure abortion seekers have received adequate “counseling,” it’s clear that CPCs are inseparable from anti-abortion lawmakers’ mission of surveilling and potentially criminalizing pregnant people.
Last month, Google announced it would automatically delete location data collected from visits to abortion clinics, fertility centers, domestic violence shelters, counseling centers, and other similar facilities—but with the significant caveat that it will continue to consider the many requests it receives from law enforcement. And, of course, by directing abortion seekers to crisis pregnancy centers, by extension, Google continues to facilitate data collection on abortion seekers.
There’s never been an excuse for tech companies and social platforms to enable anti-abortion groups, Shakouri says, but there’s greater urgency than ever for them to follow Yelp’s lead today. “It really raises the question of, why are these companies existing more or less as public resources, but not taking public safety and data privacy into consideration, especially in the heightened post-Roe moment?”