Google users will soon have the option to automatically delete their location and Web browsing histories, a privacy-enhancing feature to remove data about the places they’ve been to, the websites they visit and the apps they use.
Google already offers an option to turn off location history, and Web and app activity. Users can also manually delete data that’s generated from searches and other Google services. But the new feature lets them remove such information automatically, on a regular schedule, offering a middle ground between Google permanently holding the data and users having to delete it themselves. It also gives the company some cover against users choosing to shut down data tracking altogether. The user data is crucial to the company’s targeted ads and multibillion-dollar revenue stream.
From the account menu, users can click through a prompt to decide how long Google can keep their search and activity data. Once the new feature rolls out, users can choose between keeping their data for three months, 18 months or permanently until they manually delete it.
“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,” according to a blog post Wednesday from Google product managers. “You should always be able to manage your data in a way that works best for you — and we’re committed to giving you the best controls to make that happen.”
Google says the storage of people’s Web activity makes Google products more useful. With location and search activity information, Google’s services can recommend a restaurant or continue a Web search right where a user left off, the company said. The information also fuels Google’s massive advertising business, which generated more than $30 billion during the first three months of 2019, according to company earnings.
“Without identifying you personally to advertisers or other third parties, we might use data that includes your searches and location, websites and apps you’ve used, videos and ads you’ve seen, and basic information you’ve given us, such as your age range and gender,” the company explains on its Safety Center Web page.
A user’s search and app activity influences the types of ads Google serves up. For instance, a person who visits a travel website using their work computer during the day might later see an ad for air travel to Paris on their phone, the company said, demonstrating how it deploys targeted advertising to users across devices.
The auto-delete feature, similar to choosing to turn off search activity tracking, limits the amount of personalized information Google can tie to particular users. Google said the auto-delete option will appear in the coming weeks.
Google’s latest effort comes as another advertising giant reliant on troves of personal data attempts to orient itself around consumer privacy. Facebook, during its annual developers conference earlier this week, unveiled its vision for a revamped social network, with an emphasis on groups and private messages.
Last year, its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, announced a privacy tool called Clear History that would let people see the information about websites they’ve visited and apps they’ve used and to delete the stored data from their Facebook accounts. But the company has yet to release the feature.