“If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer, you’re the product being sold.” The quote gets attributed to a few dozen people in a variety of paraphrases, but the content is the same: free services have to get their money from somewhere, and they usually get it by selling what they learn about you, the user. And while American authorities are reluctant to act in order to ensure internet user data privacy, European authorities are not nearly so shy.
As worldwide reliance on massive tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter only seems to increase, so does concern about exactly what parts of our personal information they’re harvesting for profit. Data collection, most obviously tied to advertising but also to a host of other business practices, is a cause du jour, and is falling under increased scrutiny.
In 2018, the European Union enacted a law to ensure that user data could only be kept and used with informed consent, and it could not be a condition to use an otherwise free service. Any website wanting its content to be visible to EU browsers has to conform to those standards, which means those user data privacy protections are now standard pretty much everywhere.
Google, which advocated for the EU’s privacy law but remains the largest collector and vendor of user data in the world, is now taking a further step to protect user privacy. Instead of storing user data until a request is submitted to delete it, data now auto-deletes after certain spans of time. Browsing and app history will delete after 18 months, YouTube histories after 36. And users will be able to adjust those spans of time if they want, down to three months. The changes will be automatically applied to new accounts and offered to existing accounts via prompts.
Google has also made its permissions process more transparent, meaning that if a user grants permission to a Google-based app or program, they will be reminded periodically of what it is still doing, in case they wish to rescind that permission.
The announcement, which was made on June 24, 2020, implied that the changes would take effect immediately.