Following a year’s worth of privacy scandals and criticism for collecting users’ geo-location data, Google announced today plans to roll out a new feature that will let users auto-delete location, browsing, and search history data from their accounts after a certain period of time.
The new feature is set to roll out in the coming weeks, according to Google, and will allow users to set an expiration date for information like past Google searches, activity on Google-owned sites, installations and usage of Android apps and games, Chrome browsing history (if users chose to sync it), and location data Google normally collects through the Location History feature included with some of its services, such as Google Search and Maps.
Based on screenshots Google released earlier today, users will be able to tinker with an option in their account settings section that lets them store location and web & app data indefinitely inside accounts until they decide to purge it manually, auto-delete data when it gets three months old, or after 18 months.
Google facing heat for location data handling
Google will be rolling out this feature in the wake of increasing criticism and scrutiny over its handling of user location data.
The Location History feature is turned off by default in all accounts, but an Associated Press investigation discovered in August 2018 that even when turned off, the feature, on a smartphone, continues to track users’ movements regardless.
Ever since this revelation, the company has been sued in the US, and is also facing GDPR investigations in seven EU countries for using deceptive UI controls that hide the fact the company is sometimes collecting location data.
Last month, a separate investigation, this one carried out by The New York Times, revealed that US law enforcement have been abusing this database of location history data (which Google calls Sensorvault) for dragnet-like investigations, a fact unknown to the general public.
Following the Times’ discoveries, Google has been recently called in front of a US Congress committee to answer a series of questions on how it handles the Sensorvault database, and what other third-parties have access to this information.
Giving users the ability to auto-delete historical location data is most likely Google’s way of dealing with the impending scrutiny from US regulators, to which it must provide answers by May 7 and attend a briefing on May 10.
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