Google’s promise to delete your data has a big gap

Illustration in article titled Google's promise to delete your data has a big gap

Graphic: Google

Google’s drive to become a positive privacy company for the past year has been, depending on how you look at it, an act of genuine benevolence, a bright marketing decisionor up shit. So when Google CEO Sundar Pichai Announced The company’s latest moves in the privacy protection space on Twitter yesterday, the biggest surprise, at least to me, was the lack of skepticism I was seeing other reporters in the privacy and politics spaces.

In short: the update, as described in Pichai’s initial tweet and in a blog post Regarding the launch, it greatly changes the way the company retains user data, not only facilitating data deletion, but also changing the default settings for new Google accounts so that this data is automatically deleted every 18 months. (Existing users will have to search for these settings and activate them, although Pichai writes that Google will send reminders to existing users about these features.)

“We believe that products should retain your information only as long as it is useful and useful to you,” he explains on the blog. “We continue to challenge ourselves to do more with less, and today we are changing our data retention practices to make automatic deletion the default setting for our core business.”

It’s a sounding idea, in theory, after all, since the recent round of protests is tough reminded usyou can never be too Beware of digital breadcrumbs that you might be inadvertently spreading on the web. In theory, getting a new dataset from Google can be something like getting a new digital identity, and with each update, Google gives you the opportunity to drop all old trackers and targeting technology behind.

But if you dig a little deeper, it quickly becomes clear that this is not how digital data works absolutely-and that like every other The privacy strategy led by Google, this latest update is about the power of the market and not much else.

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First, let’s remove the spec from the update. To quote Pichai’s blog post directly:

Starting today, the first time you turn on Location History, which is turned off by default, your automatic deletion option will be set to 18 months by default. Automatic removal of web and app activity will also default to 18 months for new accounts. This means that your activity data will be automatically and continuously deleted after 18 months, instead of being kept until you choose to delete it. You can always disable this setting or change your automatic removal option.

It goes on to say that if a user wants to remove their details more frequently, they can set an automatic deletion every 3 months. The option to enable automatic deletions like these are not new, per se: the company really unfolded this option a little over a year ago, for similar fanfare to what we are seeing with this new update.

The thing is, at least in the context of digital ads—Your data is, by design, impossible to delete retroactively. Here’s an example: A while back, I downloaded an app that I later found out was sharing my prescription data with some third parties, including Google. That information came packaged with the call “anonymous identifiers“As the unique ad ID of my phone, a piece of software that Apple and Google bake in their respective hardware

If I try to delete any activity, for example my recipes, from the app using the tools that Google provides here, that doesn’t delete the same information from those third parties: they still have the data they have already collected about any relevant past activity. In my case, my recipe information is available, it’s not connected to me by name, of course, but it’s close enough. Because an activity or history deletion does not also Wipe those anonymous identifiers I mentioned earlier, the moment I log in to that app again to request a refill of some medication, a third party can see that although my Google account could be “cleaned”, I am still the same consumer as was before

In other words, this type of third-party template directly links my old and stained Google account with my new and clean one, not only in this particular application, but in every application that I can open on my phone or on every site I navigate. on my laptop. And when those two accounts are linked to more of my apps I’m using, or more sites I’m browsing, I’ll quickly end up in the same specific hell I was trying to escape from by accepting Google’s offer of Brilliant New Account.

Not only that, but because deleting activity from a Google account doesn’t suck to change the name of your Google-owned email, and because our email addresses are still one of the main ways Marketing specialists track our behavior online: any list we were on or any “consumer segments“We could have been introduced still have the same data they always have. The (somewhat) inescapable and insidious nature of this type of ad targeting technology is something Google is intimately familiar with, which is probably the reason (as me previously discovered) The company makes it almost impossible to erase your advertising ID from an Android device.

That said, there is They are Some practical benefits that come with an occasional dump of the Google account, but the benefits are not for us, they are for the hordes of advertisers The company has in its convoy. Pichai actually alludes to this in his post, when he writes about how “products should keep information only as long as it’s useful”:

For example, we’ll take you to YouTube, where automatic deletion will be set to 36 months by default if you create a new account or activate your YouTube History the first time. This improves current industry practice and ensures YouTube can continue to make relevant entertainment recommendations based on what you’ve seen or heard in the past, such as letting you know if your favorite series has launched another season, or when your favorite artist goes down. A new album.

When we talk about “content”, on YouTube or otherwise, we are talking about content that is relevant to you as a consumer. Due to my unhealthy obsession with cute cat videos, I get YouTube ads for cat food all the time. If you’re the type to be tormented in makeup tutorials, you might notice makeup ads popping up in your feed again all the time. Knowing the content that is relevant to you is not just the key to feed the beast that’s YouTube’s recommendation algorithm, but also to maintain YouTube’s advertising business. Sellers don’t want waste your money in irrelevant ads, so it is in Google’s interest to keep each user’s consumer profile as up-to-date as possible. Keeping things up to date will prevent you from saying, getting a dog food ad after your sweet puppy passes away. It would prevent you from receiving ads from RuPaul’s Drag Race after discovering that he has canceled and I swear never to see its content again. Cleaning your account yourself helps, and having your account cleaned every few months is even better.

Right now, Google needs all the graces it can get from the marketing community. This year, some analysts estimate that Google’s share of the digital advertising market will fall for the first time in the company’s history, not by much, but enough for the company to worry about. When advertising dollars drop, so does the investor dollars. Both groups may be affected by the promise of audiences that are newer, fresher, and more relevant than ever.

And of course, ads like these tend to lead Google to the grace of the rest of us, too. The question is how long it will take the public, and the press, to stop biting the hook.