In a series of sweeping announcements on Tuesday, Google announced it’s unveiling new privacy tools that would, if they lived up to the hype, let users restrict how companies track their online activities and compile and sell their personal data.
Speaking at an annual conference for developers on Tuesday, Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, delivered a message that seemed cognizant of today’s consumer privacy concerns but out of step with the company’s history of intensive online data collection.
“We think privacy is for everyone — not just for the few. We want to do more to stay ahead of constantly evolving user expectations,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said.
Among the specific items on the list (aptly summarized by the New York Times):
- Letting users search and navigate on Google Maps in “incognito mode,”
- Allowing them to watch Youtube videos and search for information on Google in the same “incognito mode,”
- Giving users an option to automatically delete their web or app activity after either three months or 18 months,
- Making it easier for users to delete information they’ve shared, perhaps inadvertently, for example location data in maps. (Less than a year ago, Google was accused of tracking people’s location data in Maps, even when they explicitly chose not to.)
- For users on Android, giving them a way to limit how much location data they share with app providers.
- And perhaps the biggest item on the list — letting users limit the use of tracking cookies on Chrome, which could completely undermine the creepiest parts of the digital advertising model, where your most minor online behaviors become fodder for more targeted ads.
Last week, Facebook pushed a similar privacy theme at a company conference. Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive, declared that “the future is private” and announced a shift in its products to more intimate communications.
Google and Facebook have become the dominant forces in online advertising, gobbling up information as their users move around their platforms and the internet at large. But their aggressive collection of user data — laid bare by several embarrassing scandals in recent years — has put the companies in the cross hairs of politicians and global regulators.
After the keynote speech, Google separately announced it would take steps to limit the use of tracking cookies on Chrome, the world’s most popular browser with about a 60 percent market share.
Cookies allow companies to monitor which websites people visit and what ads they have viewed or clicked on. They also are a way for a website to remember who you are so you don’t have to log in every time you visit. Cookies level the playing field for smaller companies in the digital advertising world — allowing them to collect information that helps refine ad targeting.