While it might seem a bit outlandish, it seems Google Maps is in areas where abortion, in general, is under ‘threat’ the results it provides for those seeking abortion clinics are nowhere near ideal. VICE News took the time recently to analyze the results of many different locations and found that the clinics provided are often not even clinics that do abortions or offer support to those who want them.
There are over 20 states that are considered to be at risk when it comes to abortion bans and when VICE searched for abortion clinics in 55 of those state’s largest cities nothing positive came forth. This making it quite clear that Google is misleading those who are trying to find abortion clinics and working to push them in the direction of being unable to make that choice for themselves. According to Futurism.com, if you tell Google Maps to direct you towards an abortion clinic in North Dakota, it will almost definitely send you to somewhere like North Dakota Right to Life instead which is an anti-abortion group.
This kind of thing might not have been intended by Google but is definitely happening. You see, when a clinic registers with Google it has to select a category to fit into. Many of these fall into the ‘women’s health clinic’ category whether they actually fit or not which is sadly not something Google looks into. Because anti-abortion medical centers and abortion clinics, in general, tend to choose the same categories, they pop up in the same results or the anti-abortion clinics drown out the few that are actually ‘real.’ Many of these businesses have noticed this and do it on purpose.
Google knows that Maps struggles to differentiate facilities that offer abortions from those that don’t, spokesperson Paul Pennington told VICE News. Websites for both pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion organizations often use the same keywords, which can flummox Maps’ automated systems. That’s why Google deploys human analysts from its fraud and spam team to flag businesses that misrepresent themselves on Maps.
“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 if Google tightens its automated controls too much in an effort to cut out centers that oppose abortion, it risks excluding real abortion providers, Pennington said. For Google, the question 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?”
“Abortion clinic” is supposed to be a protected category, so choosing that category requires a business to undergo additional certification to ensure it really offers the procedure. But Maps has occasionally mislabeled those facilities.
There’s just one clinic that performs surgical abortions in the state of Arkansas: Little Rock Family Planning Services in Little Rock. When searching “Where can I get an abortion in Little Rock, Arkansas?” Google Maps lists the clinic as a “family planning center.” That’s not necessarily wrong, given that the clinic does offer typical family planning services like STI tests, cancer screenings, and birth control. Abortion services are also sometimes considered family planning.
But if you’re searching Google Maps, the only so-called “abortion clinic” in town is Arkansas Right to Life, an anti-abortion organization that lobbies the state Legislature and supports anti-abortion political candidates. Needless to say, it does not offer abortions.
This kind of thing makes it very hard to get accurate results in places where actual abortion clinics are in a limited or sparse amount. While Google is working to resolve this ‘glitch’ we do not know if it will be a positive change or make things worse in the end. What do you think about this and do you feel like it could be happening for other types of businesses as well?