In 2018, Google was first confronted with media reports investigating why crisis pregnancy centers (often religious, non-medical organizations that do not offer abortion services or referrals for abortion services abortion) tend to dominate Google Maps search results for “abortion clinics”. Now, four years later, the tech company appears to be making some moves to potentially change the quality of these types of search results.
In response to a Bloomberg report that “Google Maps routinely misleads people looking for abortion providers,” Google says it is “actively” looking to improve the relevance of search results for business categories such as “abortion clinics “. It appears that currently, search results based on business categories are not as relevant as similar business results displayed after searches for specific business names.
The question for Google is whether its continued practice of displaying CPCs in abortion clinic results qualifies as spreading health misinformation. Women who allege Google Maps misled them say the CPCs they visited went to extreme lengths to dissuade them from seeking an abortion. This included conveying “misinformation about the abortion procedure, including risk to life, risk of breast cancer, risk to mental health, risk to future fertility and fetal pain.”
On average, a quarter of the results of anyone searching for abortion clinics in the United States on Google Maps direct users to visit CPCs, and in about a quarter of the country, CPCs account for more than half of Search Results.
This is certainly a problem for those validly seeking safe and legal abortion services, as some states have banned abortion, reducing the number of abortion clinics available in the US. People seeking services outside of these states are expected to plan to travel further to find services in less familiar areas, with many relying on Google Maps to find the nearest nearby businesses.
Because Google Maps search results by business category often show similar businesses instead of indicating when there are no relevant results nearby, experts say that as access to abortion is restricted , CPCs could dominate results, putting more users at risk of misinformation about abortion. Worse, some users may travel long distances to visit businesses that don’t actually offer abortion services. This problem isn’t necessarily limited to the business search category either. In some cases, the NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation has shown that CPCs “deliberately” use similar or sometimes the exact same business names as existing abortion providers. This contributes to additional confusion, even for Google Maps users searching for specific business names (not just general searches for “abortion clinics”).
Bloomberg says its analysis of the “abortion search results problem” is the most comprehensive yet publicly conducted. They collected data from 50 states, interviewed women who were directed to CPC by Google Maps after searching for “abortion clinics,” and obtained information from “33 abortion care providers, reproductive justice, and rights experts digital”.
In response, Google told Bloomberg it “works hard to show business results that are relevant, accurate and help users find what they’re looking for,” saying it quickly removes any misrepresenting businesses once it learns of violations of its policies against such behavior. The company also says it has added “additional layers of verification” to confirm that businesses marked as “abortion clinics” on both Google Search and Maps “actually provide abortions.” One example is an update to Google’s policy where advertisers must certify that they offer abortion services in order to run ads with “abortion-related” keywords, but Bloomberg notes that “it’s unclear whether Google could apply this knowledge to the results of their maps”. .”