Google will delete your data by default, in 18 months

In your world Developer Conference on Monday, Apple unveiled a litany of new security and privacy features that conform to what the company calls its four privacy principles. Today, Google also announces its own privacy-focused enhancements, according to what Google CEO Sundar Pichai says are “three important principles” of privacy.

Google already announced security and privacy updates for Android 11 earlier this month. But Wednesday’s changes focus on the data that Google services such as Maps and YouTube can access, and for how long they save it.

“We are guided by the principle that products should retain information only as long as it is useful to you,” Pichai wrote in a blog post. “Privacy is personal, so we are always working to give you control over its terms.”

Google has come under fire for collecting and retaining data that users don’t even realize it has. A year ago, the company added automatic deletion controls that allowed it to configure its Google account to delete history, such as “Web and app activity” and location, every three months or 18 months. Such a mechanism was long overdue, but Google would still collect this data indefinitely by default. It had to find the correct lever in its settings to set automatic removal on the move.

Wednesday’s Google announcements change this policy. Newly formed Google accounts will automatically remove activity and location every 18 months by default. YouTube history will be removed every 36 months. However, existing accounts will still need to proactively activate the feature, as Google doesn’t want to force a change on users who, for whatever reason, want the company to keep a permanent record of their activity. (You can find our complete guide to limiting Google tracking here.) As soon as it does, the company will remove its accumulated activity and location data that are 18 months or older, and will continue to do so in the future. Google will also send email notifications and reminders for existing customers to review their data retention settings.

Courtesy of Google.

From Google’s perspective, the idea is to provide users with the convenience and benefits of things like recommendations that come with an 18-month history, while eliminating undefined storage. But while users can choose to go from the default of 18 months to automatic three-month deletion, there is still no option to automatically delete data in a smaller time interval, such as once a week. Automatic deletion features also do not apply to services explicitly intended for long-term data storage, such as Gmail, Google Drive, and Photos.