Google To Delete User Searches, Location Data After 18 Months

Google is making a number of changes to its default settings that should strengthen privacy and lessen the amount of data that it collects on its users.

The tweaks to the Google default settings will result in web and app activity, as well as a log of website searches and pages visited, as well as location data, being wiped by default after 18 months.

But the changes will only apply to new accounts. Existing users will have to adjust their settings when they are shown prompts.

Auto-delete controls

Google announced the changes in a blog post by CEO Sundar Pichai, in which he stated that “privacy is at the heart of everything we do,” although campaigners will probably disagree with this sentiment.

Pichai explained that Google last year introduced auto-delete controls, which gave users the choice to have Google automatically and continuously delete their Location History, search, voice and YouTube activity data after 3 months or 18 months.

Indeed, it was in May 2019 when Google announced the auto-delete tools for location history data, as well as web browsing and app activity.

“We continue to challenge ourselves to do more with less, and today we’re changing our data retention practices to make auto-delete the default for our core activity settings,” Pichai wrote this week.

“Starting today, the first time you turn on Location History – which is off by default – your auto-delete option will be set to 18 months by default,” wrote Pichai. “Web & App Activity auto-delete will also default to 18 months for new accounts.”

“This means your activity data will be automatically and continuously deleted after 18 months, rather than kept until you choose to delete it,” he wrote. “You can always turn these settings off or change your auto-delete option.”

“If you’ve already had Location History and Web & App Activity turned on, we won’t be changing your settings,” he added. “But we will actively remind you about the auto-delete controls through in-product notifications and emails, so you can choose the auto-delete setting that works for you.”

He also revealed that Google was making it easier to access Incognito mode in its most popular apps, by long-pressing on the user profile picture in Search, Maps and YouTube.

“As always, we don’t sell your information to anyone, and we don’t use information in apps where you primarily store personal content – such as Gmail, Drive, Calendar and Photos – for advertising purposes, period,” he wrote.

Privacy worries

Google and other big name firms are firmly in the sights of industry regulators over their data collection practices.

The US Department of Justice is reportedly meeting with US state attorneys general this week to discuss plans to punish Google for anti-competitive behaviour, including an allegation it has abused its dominance in online search.

Earlier this week, a German court imposed curbs on the data Facebook collects about local users.

And in November 2018 Google was accused of being misleading about location tracking, after consumer groups from seven European nations asked their privacy regulators to take action against the search engine giant.

Consumer groups from the Netherlands, Poland, Czech Republic, Greece, Norway, Slovenia and Sweden, all filed GDPR complaints against Google’s location tracking.

They alleged that Google was tracking the movements of millions of users in breach of the European Union’s privacy laws.

Google of course is already facing a lawsuit in the United States for allegedly tracking phone users regardless of privacy settings.

That lawsuit was filed after an investigation by the Associated Press found that a number of Google services running on Android and Apple devices determine the user’s location and store it, even when Google’s “Location History” setting is switched off.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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