Google Maps trying to fix glitch that sends women seeking abortions to anti-abortion groups

Google Maps trying to fix glitch that sends women seeking abortions to anti-abortion groups
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Google Maps is attempting to fix a glitch in its system that directs people searching for abortion clinics to pro-life organizations.

A Google spokesman told Vice News that Maps cannot always differentiate between facilities that offer abortions and those that don't. 

Spokesman Paul Pennington said websites for both pro-abortion groups and pro-life organizations often use the same keywords, which can trip up Google Maps's automated systems. Pennington said Google uses human analysts to differentiate between businesses and to determine groups that misrepresent themselves on Maps.

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“There are situations in which it can be overt misrepresentation and the business knows what they’re doing. I mean, that’s the purpose of the business,” Pennington said. “If you are picking the right business category, if you are — again — being very clear in your website and you say, ‘We do not provide these services,' etc., that’s on us.”

But Pennington told Vice News that if Google restricts its automated controls on the word choice for businesses on Maps, it could prevent people from finding abortion clinics on the platform.

Pennington said the question for Google is, “What is that balance of having something that’s automated and scalable but also maintaining some level of manual labor that really has people kind of going in and reviewing this?”

A Google spokesperson told The Hill that Google works to present business "results that are relevant, accurate and help users find what they're looking for."

"We have policies in place against businesses that misrepresent themselves on Maps and when we become aware we respond to as quickly as possible," the spokesperson said in a statement. "We also empower our users to report listings for correction or removal if they believe a business is misrepresenting itself or its services."

Google's comments come after it was reported last year that users who search for abortion clinics — particularly in states considered "at risk" of banning abortion outright — have been redirected to clinics that do not offer abortions or lobby for an end to the practice. 

The news comes after the Trump administration effectively banned Planned Parenthood from the Title X family planning program, amounting to a funding loss of $60 million a year for the organization. Planned Parenthood left the Title X program last month after the Trump administration said it must comply with new rules banning providers from referring women for abortions.

Several states, including Missouri and Alabama, have been at the center of legal battles in recent months over whether restrictive abortion policies are constitutional.

—Updated at 12:46 p.m.