Will Google's New Privacy Plan Really Keep Your Data Private?
With numerous privacy breaches under its belt as well as the fact that Apple has made privacy one of its biggest selling points, Google has announced new privacy plans which will affect some of Google’s most-used apps, YouTube, Google Maps and Google Assistant. Many people believe this goes against Google’s business model, which turns user data into revenue by using targeted ads.
Google’s New Privacy Plan
According to Google, Android 10 has 50 new privacy features that users can activate on Google Maps, YouTube and Google Assistant.
A new permissions model will allow you to only allow apps to access your location data when you are using the app. There is also the inability for apps to access permanent identifiers unique to users such as an IMEI number or your MAC address.
Instead, an advertising ID will be used in which users can reset in the privacy menu. But how many users will remember to reset that ID? Let’s look at the details of Google’s new privacy measures.
Incognito Mode in Google Maps
This mode was announced back in May this year, allowing users to view and search locations without Google being able to track your usage of Maps, similarly to how you might use incognito mode in the Chrome browser.
Eric Miraglia, the director of product management wrote in a blog post, “When you turn on Incognito mode in Maps, your Maps activity on that device, like the places you search for, won’t be saved to your Google Account and won’t be used to personalize your Maps experience.”
While this is currently only available for Android devices, Miraglia wrote that it will soon be available for iPhones as well.
Whether you don’t want Google spying on your every search or location or you don’t want irrelevant recommendations, this is a welcome change in Google’s user privacy development.
YouTube History Auto-Delete
With monthly users reaching more than 1.8 billion, Google has decided to add a new security feature called history auto-delete.
This will allow you to automatically delete your YouTube history after three or eighteen months, otherwise, you can delete it manually at will. This feature is live right now and can be accessed on the YouTube MyActivity page. It should be noted that user history is incredibly valuable up to a month and anything after that is pretty much irrelevant.
There have also been changes to the Chrome browser which address how browser cookies are handled, allowing users to decide what can be done with those cookies.
Google Assistant Privacy Commands
Google has faced criticism after concerns of third-party contractors listening to users’ voice recordings. Users will be able to ask “Hey Google, how do you keep my data safe?” and expect the Assistant to share with you information about how your information remains secure.
“We’re also making it easier to control your privacy with simple voice commands,” Google added. “In the coming weeks, you’ll be able to delete Assistant activity from your Google Account just by saying things like ‘Hey Google, delete the last thing I said to you’ or ‘Hey Google, delete everything I said to you last week.’”
“You won’t need to turn on any of these features-they will work automatically when you ask the Assistant for help. If you ask to delete more than a week’s worth of data from your account, the Assistant will point you directly to the page in your account settings to complete the deletion,” Google said.
There is also a push to “protect your data with one of the world’s most advanced security features” which include tools such as Google’s Security Checkup.
This will aim to help users detect any potential security issues that they might have with their Google Account, adding extra protection such as removing old devices or any unused apps which will have access to their account.
Other online accounts will also be checked for vulnerabilities with Google’s password manager, which will notify you should you have re-used, weak passwords, or some that might have been compromised in third-party breaches.
So what is Google’s goal? According to Miraglia, “As technology evolves, so do people’s expectations for security and privacy. We look forward to building protections that aim to exceed those expectations, and will continue sharing regular updates about this work.”
It should be remembered, however, that Google has access to more user data than virtually any other company in the world.
“Google does a good job of protecting your data from hackers, protecting you from phishing, making it easier to zero out your search history or go incognito,” says Douglas Schmidt, a computer science researcher at Vanderbilt University who has studied Google’s user data collection and retention policies. “But their business model is to collect as much data about you as possible and cross-correlate it so they can try to link your online persona with your offline persona. This tracking is just absolutely essential to their business. ‘Surveillance capitalism’ is a perfect phrase for it.”
Let’s not forget that Google has had many problems regarding privacy as early as last year.
“Just in recent months, the Associated Press revealed that Google continued to store user location data on Android and iOS even when they paused collection in a privacy setting called Location History.
At the end of September, Chrome had to walk back a change to user logins meant to improve privacy on shared devices after the revision prompted a different set of concerns. Google then shuttered Google+ in October, after The Wall Street Journal reported on a previously undisclosed data exposure that left personal information from more than 500,000 of the social network’s users out in the open. And Google is once again building censored services for China.”
So while the introduced changes to some of Google’s apps take place, and you are being tracked and monitored less, you should always remember that you are, in fact, still being monitored. All of these apps that are free to download via the Google App Store are far from it, with users continuously paying with their data.
“We do a pretty good job of firewalling the ads business from the products we build,” says Ben Smith, a Google fellow and Vice President of Engineering. “But ads do fund a whole lot of free services. When we talk about building for everyone, we want to build for the people who can’t afford an expensive phone and can’t afford a $20 per month subscription. And I think that democratization of access to data is a good thing for society and the world.”
The truth is, Google often argues that targeted ads actually make for a tailored experience and one that is useful to people. This is because they are tailored to your needs, but many people are no longer falling for this explanation with more and more users feeling creeped out by targeted ads.
Cryptographer Matthew Green says, “It’s entirely possible for a company like Google to make good, usable products that strike a balance between privacy and profit. It’s just that without some countervailing pressure forcing Google to hold up their end of the bargain, it’s going to be increasingly hard for Google executives to justify it.”
Apple has been quick to recognize the fact that people are beginning to wake up to the holes in Google’s privacy policies and have made their own privacy a selling point. Making the argument that its business model isn’t centered around harvesting data and therefore allows Apple to make privacy-friendly choices.
“If you do not wish to receive ads targeted to your interests from Apple’s advertising platform, you can choose to enable Limit Ad Tracking, which will opt your Apple ID out of receiving such ads regardless of what device you’re using. If you enable Limit Ad Tracking on your mobile device, third-party apps cannot use the Advertising Identifier, a non-personal device identifier, to serve you targeted ads.”
As you might well know, Apple’s Safari browser was the first to block third-party cookies by default. In the operating systems iOS 11 and MacOS High Sierra, Apple implemented Intelligent Tracking Prevention which made it possible to reduce the possibility of advertisers to track your online movements.
In an open letter published in 2017, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook explained, “We don’t build a profile based on your email content or Web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t ‘monetize’ the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you.”
In an interview with Charlie Rose, Cook went on to explain that Apple has a different view on the collection of customer information than other companies do.
“Our business is not based on having information about you. You’re not our product,” Cook said. “Our products are these, and this watch, and Macs and so forth. And so we run a very different company. I think everyone has to ask, how do companies make their money? Follow the money. And if they’re making money mainly by collecting gobs of personal data, I think you have a right to be worried. And you should really understand what’s happening to that data, and the companies — I think — should be very transparent.”
This, of course, doesn’t mean that Apple will not collect any user data at all. It does, but it still keeps it to a minimum. When comparing the two, Android devices send data to Google ten times more often than iOS devices do to Apple.
Last month Google announced the implementation of new privacy policies that affect three of its highly used apps including YouTube, Google Maps and Google Assistant. These changes, whilst definitely helping in the battle to improve your privacy still have a long way to go.
Google’s products are primarily based on gathering and organizing user data, using it to create targeted ads for its users.
With an increasing number of people recognizing the fact that a lot of their online movements are being monitored not only by ISPs or government agencies, a push to lessen the amount of personal information collected by apps is imminent.
While the above-mentioned apps are using and tracking your data less than before, the reality is that you are still being tracked and your online activity is still being stored, resulting in you still seeing targeted ads.
Apple, on the other hand, has built a brand that monetizes its physical products on a larger scale and therefore doesn’t need to look to user online activity to gain revenue.
Privacy is something that is difficult to come by, especially in today’s society that is centered around online technology and social media platforms. Realistically, the only way Google will be able to make credible changes in its push for user online privacy is to change not only the way it makes money, but change its business model as a whole.
The positive takeaway from this whole situation is that companies like Google are feeling the backlash and are making strides in creating privacy policies that attempt to work for their users. The question is, does Google have good enough products for you to compromise your privacy?