Google tightens privacy settings with auto data deletion

Location history and search data will be deleted after 18 months by default for new users

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 21, 2020 A man passes by a sign of Google at Google's stand during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, on January 21, 2020. Google has begun auto-deleting new users' search data and location history on a rolling 18-month basis, CEO Sundar Pichai announced, as the tech giant moves to tighten privacy settings. / AFP / Fabrice COFFRINI
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Google will automatically delete new users’ location history and search data after 18 months as the US tech giant looks to tighten its privacy policy, the company’s chief executive said.

“We believe that products should keep your information for only as long as it's useful and helpful to you … whether that’s being able to find your favourite destinations or getting recommendations for what to watch,” said Sundar Pichai. The new privacy policy improvements will help the company to “keep less data by default”.

The latest default privacy features is for “new” Google users, the company said.

Existing users can opt to auto-delete their data every three or 18 months. This old setting has not been updated, however, existing users can also chose the new privacy feature if they wish, according to the company.

"We don't want to force a setting change to existing users and without their permission," Google told The National in an emailed statement.

“However, we will be actively reminding everyone with a Google account about the [new] auto-delete options through in-product notifications and emails, so they can make the choice that’s right for them.”

Here is how the new privacy feature works:

When new users turn on the location history – which is not activated by default - their auto-delete option will be set to 18 months. The web and app research auto-delete will also be set to 18 months for new accounts, meaning their activity data will be automatically deleted after that period. Google users can also turn off these settings if they wish.

The move is the latest effort by Google to boost users’ confidence after it faced hefty fines for violating privacy regulations in the past.

Last September, it agreed to pay a $170 million (Dh624m) fine to settle charges that it illegally collected and shared data from children on its YouTube video service without the consent of parents.

The company was also fined nearly $57m, in January last year, by French regulators for violating Europe’s data-privacy rules.

“Privacy is at the heart of everything we do … we don’t sell your information to anyone and we don’t use information in apps where you primarily store personal content,” said Mr Pichai.

“As we design our products, we focus on three important principles - keeping your information safe, treating it responsibly and putting you in control.”