“Our work on privacy and security is never done, we want to do more to stay ahead of the constantly evolving user expectations”, said Google CEO Sundar Pichai at Google’s annual developers conference I/O 2019. “We always want to do more for users, but do it with less data over time.” Google has announced some privacy controls including for location and web activity.
Its worth noting that Google was slapped with a €50 million penalty by France’s data regulator CNIL for privacy violations under the GDPR, this came amidst more global scrutiny and regulation of technology companies by various governments. Earlier this year, Google shuffled its global policy operations, reportedly due to increased pressure coming from “increased responsibilities, the heightened public focus on tech and the growth of our business” and to better engage with governments and other stakeholders. Although it remains to be seen what the coming year will bring, here’s a lowdown on all the privacy focused changes announced at I/O 2019:
1. Access to privacy and security settings: Users can now review and delete their recent Search activity within the Search app, Google has made account and history settings more accessible across apps including Search. Auto delete controls are available right on the Search app, and users can choose how long they want their data to be stored. This feature has rolled out to web and app activity, and is coming later for location history. One tap access to Google Account coming to Chrome, Search, Assistant, Google News and Maps.
2. Maps now has an incognito mode, which has been a popular feature in Chrome since launch, said Pichai. In the incognito mode, places users search and navigate to will not be linked to their accounts. This feature is already available in YouTube and Chrome, and is coming to Search and Maps soon. Last year, Google was found tracking users’ location data even when their location history option was off. By turning off Location History, Google only stopped adding users’ movements to its Timeline feature, but continued to track their location via apps like Google Maps, weather updates, and browser searches.
3. Federated learning: is a kind of machine learning developed by Google, allows Google products to work better for users and for other users without collecting raw data from user devices. According to Pichai, Google ‘ships’ the machine learning models directly to device, each phone computes an update, and only the updates and not the data is securely uploaded and aggregated to improve the global model, which is then sent to the devices. GBoard suggets new words after the user types them many times, with federated learning, Gboard can learn new words after thousands of people start using them, without Google seeing anything you type. Google is already using FL to improve next-word prediction and emoji prediction across tens of millions of devices. Federated Learning allows Gboard to learn all kinds of new words without Google every seeing keyboard data itself.
We’ve also invested in differential privacy protections, which enable us to train machine learning models without memorizing information that could reveal specific details about a user
4. Privacy tools on Android Q: “All innovation must happen within the frame of privacy and security,” said Google’s senior director for Android, Stephanie Cuthberston. “You should always be in control of what you share and who you share it with,” she continued, claiming that Android has the most widely deployed security and anti-malware service of any OS, and that it scored the highest possible rating in 26 of 30 categories in Gartner’s most recent security report. Privacy is among the top setting in the latest version of Android, where all privacy and security controls are parked in one settings spot, including location, web and app activity, ad settings. Android Q will remind users whenever an app accesses location when you’re not actively using that app. Second, Q will give you more control over how you share location data, and opt for it to be shared only when the app is in use. Location access options are prominent in settings.