For privacy activists, Google’s ability to track your movements live on its map and record this data was as bad as having an electronic leash around the neck. Finally, in response to fears of data misuse, the Alphabet-owned tech giant plans to launch an “auto-delete" option. This feature will enable users to routinely expunge their location history, web and app activity data collected by Google Maps and its search engine after every three or 18 months. There is no word on past data, but even so, this is a good beginning.
In a world where the web seems like a privacy nightmare, Google’s announcement marks a major shift in its relationship with users. Many of its services are utilities that few can do without, and for once, people will be given a choice in their terms of engagement. Public pressure has come to bear only recently. User awareness of their exposure risks was so low that protests were few and far between. But the argument was never about what the company was doing with its treasure trove of personal data—better services are always welcome—but where the existence of such a database left the principle of privacy.
Now that the world is coming round to the view that people have a right to erase their data, we can hope that data gatherers and givers can strike a new bargain that suits both sides. While it’s a bit early to say whether Google’s move will reform the entire app ecosystem, a big win has been scored.