Privacy concerns are a major issue across many online platforms, with companies like Facebook and Twitter garnering controversy for their use of customer data. Google has long been in the crosshairs when it comes to keeping users' information secure as well, especially following a 2018 Associated Press investigation that found Google services across iOS and Android devices were saving location data even after the mode had been toggled off. In an apparent move to prove the company is taking privacy more seriously, Google announced on May 1 that it's introducing an option for users to auto-delete any location-based or web history data they don't want the search engine giant to use.
"Whether you’re looking for the latest news or the quickest driving route, we aim to make our products helpful for everyone," Google's official blog post on the announcement begins. "And when you turn on settings like Location History or Web & App Activity, the data can make Google products more useful for you — like recommending a restaurant that you might enjoy, or helping you pick up where you left off on a previous search."
While it's certainly true that can come in handy, many users who opt into sharing their location data have long been worried that their info is being handed over freely to companies that'll use it for purposes beyond their knowledge or control. Google, thankfully, is hearing these concerns loud and clear. "We work to keep your data private and secure, and we’ve heard your feedback that we need to provide simpler ways for you to manage or delete it," read the blog post.
So now, Google has launched the auto-delete feature, to be used for Location History and Web and App Activity data. Though the ability to turn off this info already exists, the AP's 2018 investigation proved that apparently isn't enough to keep the data from being permanently deleted. With the auto-delete option, though, you can now choose a time limit for how long you want data to be retained (between 3 to 18 months), and any data older than that will automatically be deleted from your account on a regular basis. You also have the power to access these controls to manually delete part of or all of your historical information manually, if you prefer.
This new feature is obviously meant to help make staying private online less of a headache, as it can be difficult to remember to clear out your history regularly. Even if you're not someone typically worried about keeping info online, the auto-delete feature will still likely come in handy. If you're Googling a private medical condition or an embarrassing question, say, you probably don't want anyone having access to your online info. And on a more serious note, Google uses your location data to map out a timeline that records your daily movements. This is how Google learns where "home" is, or figures out what kind of routine you usually follow, and if this info somehow got into the wrong hands, strangers could potentially ascertain your location on any given day. Having Google auto-delete that info every few months is definitely a good call.
Of course, this is just one small step forward in the fight to make privacy easier, better to understand, and more widespread throughout the sites and apps we use on a daily basis. Still, Google taking the initiative with this feature shows that the company is committed to improving after its past transgressions, and it should lend a bit of peace of mind to users concerned with storing their data and allowing any such data to be recorded in the first place.