Google loves tracking you. It tracks your search history, your physical location and your Android apps. Using Google imparts a lot of information, unless you're meticulous about scrubbing every trace of your online activities from your Google profile, every day.
The good news is that you'll soon have more control over what Google stores about you. And it should be a very easy to do.
An upcoming feature, announced today (May 1) will allow users to automatically delete data after a fixed period of time. This should provide users with a happy medium between "Google has no idea where I live, or what kind of content I want" and "Google has access to everywhere I've ever been, and everything I've ever seen online."
David Monsees, product manager of search at Google, explained how the feature will work:
"Choose a time limit for how long you want your activity data to be saved – 3 or 18 months – and any data older than that will be automatically deleted from your account on an ongoing basis," he wrote. "These controls are coming first to Location History and Web & App Activity and will roll out within the coming weeks."
An animated graphic shows what the process will look like, and it's just as Monsees described it. Users choose how long Google should retain their data; anything older than that will vanish into the ether beyond Google's server farms.
(Naturally, it's not possible for a regular user to determine whether the data is really gone forever, or whether Google is hanging into it in some kind of anonymized form. But this is still better than not having the option.)
At present, the auto-delete functionality is not available. But if Google's animated GIF describes the process accurately, here's how you'll be able to activate it:
1. Visit Google's homepage.
2. Click on your profile picture in the upper-right corner.
3. Click the Google Account button.
4. Select the Data & Personalization tab on the left side of the screen.
5. Click Web & App activity.
6. Select "Choose to delete automatically."
7. Pick "Keep until I delete manually," "Keep for 18 months," or "Keep for 3 months."
8. Click Next.
9. Confirm your choices.
If this turns out to be an incorrect sequence, or if Google winds up programming a different way to access the settings, we will update this piece accordingly.
Privacy-minded users may wonder why they'd want to let Google hang onto their data at all, but the fact is that your smartphone experience will look a lot different if you don't let Google know anything about where you've been, or what you look for online.
Google won't know where you live, where you work, what kind of food you eat, what kind of videos you like to watch, and so forth. That means your phone won't be able to auto-complete common destinations in Maps, or show you the next video in a YouTube series you're watching, or show you information about upcoming flights, and so forth.
None of these features is an absolute necessity, of course, but imagine using Google Chrome's Incognito browser every single time you go onto the web, and you'll have some idea of what a phone that stores absolutely none of your data would look like.
In any case, the feature will roll out to both the web and smartphones within the next few weeks; no doubt, Google will provide more detailed instructions on how to use it then. For now, if you want to keep your information private, you can always delete it yourself. Just be sure to set aside an hour or two; it's a time-consuming process.