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How to use Google's new privacy features

Google collects and stores an astonishing amount of user data. Your browser history and activity, video viewing habits, location information, purchases, email files and drafts, and much more are all held and used for advertising purposes by default. The company allows users to change these settings and manually delete their histories whenever they'd like, but most people don't take the time to do so. Which means Google could end up storing this information indefinitely.

In 2019, Google introduced a setting that automatically deletes your browsing and app history, but, once again, these settings weren't the default, and many users likely didn't even know they existed. To combat this, and to stave off accusations of breaching user's privacy, Google announced in late June that these settings would be enabled by default.

"We believe that products should keep your information for only as long as it's useful and helpful to you," wrote CEO Sundar Pichai in an official blog post. "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."

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If you're creating a new Google account, the default settings will automatically delete your web and location history every 18 months. If you'd like your history scrubbed more frequently, you can schedule deletion every 3 months by going into your account settings.

If you're an existing user, you'll have to go into your settings and set your preferences, because they won't be changed. There are a handful of hoops you have to jump through to make sure this is set up correctly.

Changing your Google settings with a computer

First, you need to sign into your Google account from Google's homepage or the Accounts page.

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At the welcome page, select the 'Privacy & personalization' tab.

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When the 'Data & personalization' page comes up, click on 'Web & App Activity,' 'Location History,' or 'YouTube History' to move to the 'Activity controls' page for each one.

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At 'Activity controls,' choose the 'Auto-delete' option and select the one you prefer.

You can choose to auto-delete your data after 3 months, 18 months, or keep it to manual deletion only (which means Google will hold onto your data until you clear it out yourself).

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Hit 'Next' and then 'Confirm' when the next part pops up.

Google will let you know how much will be deleted now as a result of your selection.

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After that, your preferences will be saved and your stored data should automatically delete in regular intervals.

You can go back to the 'Data & personalization' page to set up auto-delete for your other activities (such as YouTube), or you can hit the handy dandy 'See all activity controls' to bring up your other activities on the same page.

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Repeat these steps if you have multiple Google accounts.

Changing your Google settings with a mobile device

One easy way to access your Google account on mobile is through the Gmail app. Sign into your Gmail as usual, then tap your profile pic in the upper right corner. Select 'Manage your Google Account' to move to the Google Account screen.

The page you land on should look similar to the computer version, and the steps are the same: Tap 'Privacy & personalization,' choose an activity to manage, and select 'Auto-delete' when the 'Activity controls' page comes up.

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Rinse and repeat for multiple Google accounts.

The auto-delete features are but one of a few small changes Google is making to help protect the privacy of its users. The company has also made it easier to switch to incognito mode on mobile by long pressing your profile picture in the upper corner of the screen.

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Google also maintains other security features such as Privacy Checkup (which you can find on the Google Accounts homepage) and Password Checkup to see if your passwords have been compromised. Try out these features and learn to get used to them; they may be small steps toward regaining control of our personal data.