Alphabet employees will be just thrilled to read this.
Google Maps is scrambling to try and fix a glitch that sometimes directs people who are searching for an abortion clinic to pro-life family planning organizations, Vice reports.
Particularly in areas where access to abortions is seriously restricted or de facto illegal, Google Maps will often unintentionally misdirect women. This is most likely if the nearest abortion clinic is hundreds of miles away.
For example, there's only one abortion clinic left in the state of North Dakota. It's in the state's second-largest city, Fargo. But if you're using Google Maps to search for an abortion clinic in North Dakota's second-largest city, Bismarck, the clinic in Fargo oftentimes won't even show up.
Instead, searching Google Maps for “Where can I get an abortion in Bismarck, North Dakota?” will bring up results not only for a facility that doesn’t offer abortion but also for North Dakota Right to Life — an organization that lobbies to end abortion.
"That is very frustrating, and certainly I would love to be able to do something about that," said Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women’s Clinic, North Dakota’s only abortion provider. "And a small clinic like ours doesn’t have the capacity to do it."
Nearly half of the states in the US - 21 in total - are considered "at risk" of banning abortion should Roe v. Wade be overturned, something that's looking increasingly probable.
One common ploy used by pro-life organizations to confuse Google's algorithm is buying an acknowledgment that it doesn't provide abortions in small type in a difficult-to-find section of its website.
outright lies are another popular tactic.
Businesses can choose from a list of pre-selected categories when describing themselves on Google Maps, such as "women's health clinic," "pregnancy care center," or "abortion clinic." After a business creates or claims its listing, Google sends a physical postcard to its address for authentication.
Paul Pennington, a Google spokesman, told Vice that Google sometimes uses human analysts to ferret out organizations that game its system to misrepresent themselves. But it only has so much manpower, and providers' (or non-providers) tactics are constantly evolving.
"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."
Alice Huling, a lawyer for the liberal government watchdog Campaign for Accountability, told the Guardian that many of these pro-family organizations that mislead women on Google Maps ultimately hope to draw the pregnant women in, then try to convince them to carry the pregnancy to term. If they still don't feel ready to care for the child, the mother can put their child up for adoption.