PhotoFor everyone who thinks it’s an overreach for Google to know everywhere you’ve been, the tech giant has decided to yank “Whither thou goest, I will go” out of its phrasebook and add auto-delete controls for users’ Location History and activity data.

In an announcement on Google’s Keyword blog, the company said consumer feedback has been loud and clear regarding personal data.

So, going forward, if a user doesn’t want things like restaurant recommendations or helping the user pick up where they left off on a previous search, they’ll have the option to manage or delete personal data… and, in Google’s words, do it simply.

Here’s how it works

The user picks a time limit that governs how long their online activities can be tracked and saved. For example, if a user picks 18 months, any data older than that will automatically be wiped from their account immediately. As time moves forward, anything past that 18-month line will be deleted as well.

“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,” commented Google’s David Monsees, Product Manager, Search, and Marlo McGriff, Product Manager, Maps.

Is personal data finally on the right path?

What personal data digital providers keep has been a constant frustration since Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica blunder. While Europe has had similar options in play with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the U.S. has been slow to match that pro-consumer move.

“As for the U.S. following in the EU's footsteps, it does look increasingly likely that the U.S. will pass some form of privacy legislation but it's still unclear how closely that will be modeled on the GDPR,” Josephine Wolff, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, told ConsumerAffairs.

”The U.S. will probably chart its own course to some degree; for instance, it may grant some specific exemptions for smaller businesses.”

Apple appears to be on board for similar legislation. In a conference in Brussels last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the crisis of data collection is real and “should unsettle us.”

Getting compliant with the GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is also on Facebook’s to-do list for 2019.

Tracking is a personal preference

Wolff points out that what data a company collects depends largely on how that company serves consumers.

“For instance, it might make sense that Google Maps or the Weather Channel would collect your location data since the services they provide depend on where you are, but it would perhaps seem less reasonable for an app that provides a game or a set of recommended workout routines to collect your location data.”

“Reasonableness of data collection is dictated by the service that a company provides to its consumers and whether the data is essential to the provision of that service or merely being used as an additional potential revenue stream for instance through advertisement targeting or selling the data to third parties for other purposes.”

The best way to find out whether your data might be sold? Read the app or a platform’s “terms of use.” It’s not the most fun read -- and “I have read and agree to the Terms” might be the biggest lie on the web -- but knowing what data a user gives to a platform is the user’s responsibility.


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