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Google Has Changed Its Data Retention Practices: As Google is set to Auto-Delete User Activity Data after 18 Months by Default

Google has today announced a change in its approach to user activity data retention, which will see it auto-delete user data after 18 months by default.

Could this become the new standard for personal data collection by tech companies?

As explained by Google:

“Last year we introduced auto-delete controls, which give you the choice to have Google automatically and continuously delete your Location History, search, voice, and YouTube activity data after 3 months or 18 months. 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.”

However, there are some provisos to the new approach.

For one, the new default deletion setting will only apply to new accounts and/or users who turn on Location History for the first time. This means that current users who have not explicitly switched on the auto-delete option will not have the new 18-month automatic erase process switched on unless they choose to.

Some users may actually not want to have this setting activated, and rather than assume they do, Google is limiting the roll-out to new accounts – but again, all users can switch on the option to auto-delete their Google info here.

Default retention will also (logically) not apply to Gmail, Drive, and Photos, where you’ll want to keep your personal info longer than 18 months.

This could be a positive step towards greater user privacy and data control. Really, after 18 months, your info is probably not as valuable or indicative anyway, and refreshing it every now and then will likely provide you with better user experience.

Essentially, while this is an improvement, Google will already know everything it needs to know about you after 18 months anyway, so while this will feel more privacy-friendly and reassuring, it probably won’t change a lot. Google will still be able to serve you relevant ads and provide you with relevant content suggestions. Its ad targeting will still be highly personalized, even based on a smaller dataset.

Still, it’s a better system overall, and maybe, this could become a new industry standard, as a means to give people more capacity to control their personal information. It’s worth noting, for example, that Facebook has now been around for 16 years, which means that many young adults have the majority of their lives, from teen to adult, recorded on Facebook’s servers in perpetuity. Surely who they were then is not indicative of who they are now, and Facebook doesn’t really need all that info. Maybe, then, limiting data-retention time frames by default could be a positive step.

In addition to this, Google has also announced a new way to locate its Privacy Check-Up tool via Google search (search for “Google Privacy Checkup” in the app), and a new, easier way to switch to Incognito mode by long-pressing on your profile picture in Search, Maps, and YouTube.

Google’s also integrating its Password Checkup tool into the general Google account settings, which will make it easier for users to check on compromised passwords, based on data leaks.

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These are some helpful additions, and with personal data collection coming under more and more scrutiny, it’s good to see Google taking steps to provide more control options for users – even if they’ll have largely gleaned all the info they need out of these smaller data sets.