Google has long allowed you to delete all the data it's stored on you, or to turn off collection, but turning off collection altogether made its services a lot less useful (for example, it made the auto-suggested locations in the Maps app of your phone worse, forcing you to do more typing on a tiny keyboard while on the go), and otherwise you had to remember to periodically open Google's privacy dashboard and delete your stored history.
The latest iteration of Google's privacy dashboard solves this problem by allowing you to set a window for the retention of your data, so that Google will automatically purge records after a set time (the shortest is 3 months, the longest, 18 months). Google is rolling this out across all its services, the latest being Youtube.
The move comes as Google is also improving the privacy defaults in Android: I got a software update last week that has a surprisingly easy-to-use feature that warns you when apps that you aren't using try to get your location, and then allows you to configure those apps to only get your location when you're actually using them, or never, or always.
All of this depends on your trusting Google to honor the implicit promises in these privacy settings, of course. It's a difficult risk to assess: Google has broken its promises in the past, and even done sneaky things to subvert its users privacy settings.
But the company is also operating in a new world where multibillion dollar fines are becoming par for the course when this sort of misbehavior is detected, and there is burgeoning political will to revive antitrust law and break up Big Tech companies.
Yet there’s no one-size-fits-all for how people should use Google’s privacy controls, since everyone has different lifestyles and levels of paranoia. To give an idea of how you can tailor these settings, here’s my personal setup:
* I set my search history to auto-delete. I rarely use Google Assistant and don’t visit Google News, meaning I don’t benefit from personalized recommendations. But I’m often checking Google Maps, and it’s useful to have a recent history of those searches to revisit destinations. So I set Web & App Activity to automatically delete after three months.
* I set my YouTube history to self-destruct. I go in and out of phases that involve cooking different types of foods, and I like it when YouTube surfaces new recipes based on recent searches. So I set my YouTube history to auto-delete after three months.
* I set my location history to auto-delete, too. I use Google Maps regularly, and I go on big trips twice a year. It’s useful for me to let Google know where I have been recently so that its Maps app can load relevant addresses and remember places I have been. But it’s not useful for Google to continue to know that I went to Hawaii last month for vacation. So I set my location history to auto-purge after three months.
How to Set Your Google Data to Self-Destruct [Brian X. Chen/New York Times]