Recently, at the Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple introduced new security and privacy features that fit into the company’s four privacy principles.
That said, Google also announced its own privacy-focused improvements, as Google CEO Sundar Pichai says –“ Three important principles” of privacy.
Earlier this month, Google announced security and privacy upgrades to Android 11. However, the recent change focuses on the data that Google services such as YouTube and Maps can access and how long they keep it for.
Google has faced criticism for collecting and retaining data that the user doesn’t even realize it has. Last year, Google added auto-delete controls that allowed you to allow your Google account to delete history like Web and App activity and location, every three or 18 months. Such a feature was needed, but Google would collect the data continuously by default. You had to find the right toggle in your setting to opt for the auto-delete feature.
The latest announcement though flips the policy around. New Google accounts will auto-delete activity and location every 18 months by default while YouTube history will delete every 36 months. Existing accounts, however, will still need to proactively turn on the feature as Google does not want to force the change on users who want it to maintain a forever-record of their activity. If you opt for the “delete” feature, Google will delete all your activity and location data accumulated over 18 months or older and continue doing so in the future as well. Additionally, Google will push notifications and email reminders to get existing customers to review their data retention settings.
According to Google, this feature will give users the convenience and benefits of recommendations that come from holding on to 18 months of history while eliminating unlimited storage. That said, though users can opt to drop down from 18- month default to three-month auto-delete, auto-delete option on a smaller timescale like once a week still does not exist. Also, do note that the auto-delete features don’t apply to services such as Gmail, Google Drive, and Photos that are explicitly meant for long-term data storage.
In addition, Google is also surfacing its existing Incognito Mode in its Search, Maps, and YouTube mobile apps. Soon, all the apps will update and allow you to turn on the new feature by long-pressing on your profile photo on the upper right of the screen.
The Incognito Mode works more as a pause on Google’s activity collection and not some sort of sophisticated privacy and security shield. It does not prevent Google from tracking your browsing or protect you from potential surveillance by Internet Service Providers or governments. It simply separates that activity from your Google account. Using Maps without logging is similar to using Incognito Mode all the time.
Additionally, Google is promoting its Security Checkup feature. This feature will help walk users through their privacy and security settings. Google is also set to expand the tool to include its Password Checkup mechanism for alerting users if their passwords are exposed in a data breach.
While Apple is looking to block ad-tracking and cross-platform tracking aggressively, Google’s recent announcement seems much more incremental.