Google Plans Changes to How Long It Holds on to User Data

Google disclosed that it had changed its policy regarding how long it will hang on to users’ search data. Last year, the company introduced an option that allowed users to automatically delete data related to Internet searches, requests made to Google Assistant and location history after three months or 18 months. Beginning now, Google’s default policy is to automatically delete location history, voice recordings and web/app activity on new accounts after 18 months. The settings on existing accounts will remain the same.

The New York Times reports that, “Google, which boasts that it has more than one billion monthly users for seven of its services, said it did not alter the settings for existing accounts because it did not want to upset users with an unexpected change,” but that it will “alert users to the ability to change the deletion settings in emails and promotions on its products.” Because many users do not bother to change settings, “the shift addresses the power of defaults.”

Alphabet chief executive Sundar Pichai stated that the company is challenging itself “to make helpful products with less data.” Google also plans to change the “default setting on new YouTube accounts to erase viewing history after three years, although users can choose to delete that record after three months, 18 months or choose not to delete it at all.”

Other new features to manage online privacy include an easier ability to enable Chrome’s “Incognito” mode, “a more private form of browsing.”

The Verge reports that Pichai wrote in a blog post that, “as we design our products, we focus on three important principles: keeping your information safe, treating it responsibly, and putting you in control.” The user can see what data points Google has collected in his or her My Activity page and can “manually delete specific items.”

It adds that, “Google will set web and app searches to auto-delete after 18 months even if users take no action at all” as will location history if the user turns it on. The user can turn on auto-delete from the Activity Controls page. YouTube’s three-year default is “to ensure the broader data can be used by the platform’s recommendation algorithms.”

The Verge states that, “in some ways, the new settings represent a compromise between the privacy interests of users and Google’s business interests as an ad network.” Recent data, it adds, is “the most valuable since it can be used to target people who have recently engaged with a particular product,” which is why Google holds on to it for 18 months.

The Incognito mode can be activated with a long-press on the user’s profile picture. Google also revealed an expansion of Password Checkup earlier this week.

How to Make Sure Google Automatically Deletes Your Data on a Regular Basis, Vox, 6/24/20

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