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Making sense of Google’s new controls

Publish date: 15 May 2019
Issue Number: 1781
Diary: Legalbrief eLaw
Category: Privacy

Google is introducing controls to allow users to set time limits on how long it could save location, web and app activity data. In a Forbes analysis, Davey Winder notes that the search giant also appears to have turned the user privacy knob up by announcing that it will, in effect, stop tracking users of both Google Maps and Search. ‘Given that Google is all about the data, by which I mean your data, what's the catch? ‘This an important move forward for Google in terms of user privacy controls, but does that actually mean that your movements are private? As far as Google is concerned, then yes it should. From the broader perspective then no, as there's still your internet service provider, mobile network, third-party sites or apps that you browse to that must be considered in the overall tracking picture. As for Google itself, it is in the business of analysing your data in order to serve you content including advertising and that's not going to change any time soon.’ Winder says the big catch is that Incognito will not be the default mode, ‘and experience tends to suggest the vast majority of users don't tend to stray from app defaults’. ‘So while the nod towards privacy is most welcome, especially given the other nods mentioned previously, I'm not convinced that the Google leopard is in full spot-changing mode and neither should you be. Think of this as just being another, very small, tweak to the “taking back some modicum of control over your privacy” continuum.’

Full analysis on the Forbes site

In an op-ed written for The New York Times, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai has defended his company’s approach to privacy and user data, responding indirectly to critics who claim the company collects invasive amounts of personal information. Pichai says Google’s approach is to make privacy more democratic. He also called on the US to introduce new legislation protecting users’ data. A report on The Verge site notes that Pichai contrasted Google’s approach to privacy with Apple’s. In a thinly veiled snipe at the iPhone-maker, Pichai said that ‘privacy cannot be a luxury good’ that’s only available to ‘people who can afford to buy premium products and services.’ Apple’s Tim Cook has taken aim at Google in the past, notably telling attendees of a privacy conference in 2018 that modern technology has created a ‘data-industrial complex’ where personal and private information is abused by platform-holders in pursuit of profit. The report notes that Pichai minimises the ad-targeting aspects of the data Google collects, even though advertising is at the core of Google’s business model.

Full report on The Verge site

NYT Op-ed