Location data is among the most useful and controversial metrics a company can track but now Google’s aiming to make managing that account data much easier and less of a burden with new "auto-delete" tools coming soon to Android. The same tool will also be made available the account web and app activity data typically kept by the search giant indefinitely.
The tool works exactly as it sounds, letting users set a timeframe for how long their location or web and app activity data will be stored. Google says the option will be available in the "coming weeks" and, presumably, that will be made available everywhere since no locations or regions are specified.
Better still, Google indicates that it doesn't plan at stopping with app, web, or location history. Instead, the company says that it will "come first Location History and Web & App Activity," implying it could apply to other Google-stored data in the future.
Limitations, and activating the feature
With auto-delete active, users who don't want to turn the tracking off entirely or turn it off and on again as needed will still be able to take advantage of personalized search and maps features without worrying as much about how long their data is being stored. But there is at least one noteworthy drawback.
The biggest caveat is that the data is still being stored and there is a rather severe limit on the timeframes for auto-deleting the data. Users will only be able to select to not delete data, to delete anything older than three months, or to extend saving that data out to 18 months. There are no in-between options.
Turning on the feature will be straightforward since Google has reorganized the management tools for account data in general to make that more user-friendly. On mobile, users can find the tool -- after it lands -- by navigating to the "Settings" application and then scrolling down to the "Google" section. Tapping on that will bring up a whole slew of options but "Google Account" is the one that's needed.
Navigating from there to the "Data & personalization tab," users will be presented with a card for reviewing privacy settings and another for "Activity controls." Under the latter, there are options for "Web & App Activity" and "Location History." Following the impending update, users will be presented with a button to "choose to delete automatically" under those menus. Clicking that button and then following the prompts will set the feature up.
Definitely a better approach to data collection
As noted above, there are ways to simply turn off activity or location tracking. In fact, following the same steps outlined already for reaching the new tool once it's added will reveal toggles for turning that tracking off or on in each respective setting. That's a widespread but completely imperfect perfect solution though since there are some who would prefer to have the benefits of providing their location without having that stored for a long time -- and vulnerable to breaches.
The auto-delete tool is beneficial on that front because, despite the obvious caveat, Google is now going to provide its users with a more customizable degree of choice. It doesn't remove the option to completely opt out but doesn't force those who want some of the tracking to turn it off and on manually or delete their data manually if and when they remember to. The move should also put the search giant in a more favorable light amid its many ongoing controversies as well as its other regulatory and legislative missteps.