Privacy Wars: Google enables auto-delete, responding to Apple’s new privacy controls
July 15, 2020
2 min read
What's going on here?
Google has enabled a default, auto-delete feature for user data. The announcement came only two days after Apple announced that its next software update would require apps to obtain user permission before tracking their data.
What does this mean?
Google’s new auto-delete feature only applies by default to newly created accounts (existing users must enable it manually). The new feature limits Google to storing 18 months of web and app activity, location history, and three years of user YouTube histories before automatic deletion. Additionally, Google plans to signpost this change to users, make account privacy and security settings accessible on its search page, and make incognito mode more easily accessible.
The timing of this increase in privacy measures by Google is interesting, as it comes soon after Apple announced that the upcoming software iterations would also have many new privacy measures. These are: requiring apps to get user permission before they can track data, adding a privacy notification upon downloading an app that lists the reasons for permission requests by the app, and adding a privacy report to Safari listing the trackers present on a visited website.
What's the big picture effect?
The back-to-back announcements show how privacy has become an important marketing tool for tech companies, as they work to set themselves apart from one another and remain competitive.
Apple already prides itself on its high privacy standards and has used its commitment to user privacy in advertising campaigns to set itself apart from its competitors. Its limitations on trackers’ access to user data will likely cut into Apple’s ad revenue, as this data allows for targeted advertising in-app and makes an ad more valuable for both the app owner and the advertiser. However, Apple’s revenue mainly comes from its hardware and services (such as Apple Music), rather than the monetising of user data, so it only stands to benefit from a sectoral shift towards stronger data protection.
Google, on the other hand, relies heavily on its user’s data as part of its business model. The bulk of Google’s revenue comes from ads, which are worth more when they’re targeted to the interests of the people seeing them. Therefore, it is unsurprising that Google’s new privacy features are very slight in comparison to Apple; the amount of data Google retains is still significant and is much more than the three-month restriction on data storage under the already existing manually enabled auto-delete.
If Apple’s new push towards blocking trackers becomes more popular, Google may have to follow suit or risk becoming a pariah in the eyes of consumers for its unwillingness to maintain their privacy. This move could threaten the current state of the mobile app advertising industry, as less targeted ads will be worth much less to advertisers and app creators. For Google, this could mean a need to diversify its revenue streams or risk losing out to Apple.
Report written by Darinka Lipovac
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