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How to Limit How Long Google Keeps Your Data

Google put security and privacy features front and center as it kicked off this year’s I/O developer conference in Mountain View, California, on Tuesday. The company went so far as to say that “security and privacy are the central theme” of its upcoming Android Q release. But let’s say you want to take some control over what data Google has about you right now. As of today, anyone with a Google account can start limiting how long their data gets stored using new settings the company announced last week.

The feature allows users to set a time limit for Google to retain certain types of data, either three months or 18 months, after which the information is automatically deleted. For now, the auto-delete feature is only available for “Web & App Activity,” which tracks things like your searches and other browsing data. The company will offer options across more services in the future, including highly anticipated controls for location data (there are other ways to turn that tracking off in the meantime).

None of this will happen on its own, though. By default, Google will continue to indefinitely retain the Web & Activity data you’ve set it to collect—everything by default. In this state, before auto-delete is turned on, the Web & App Activity page says, “Your activity is being kept until you delete it manually.”

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To make the changes, log into your Google Account and go to Web & App Activity. Then press the “Choose to delete automatically” button. An overlay will offer three options: “Keep until I delete manually,” “Keep for 18 months then delete automatically,” and “Keep for 3 months then delete automatically.”

Google says that “what you search, read, and watch can work together to help you get things done faster, discover new content, and pick up where you left off,” as an explanation for why you might want to store your data longer. But maybe try setting it to the three-month auto-delete and see if your user experience suffers. You can always reassess and switch your setting later. The final screen in the overlay reviews the choice you’ve selected, indicates how much of your current data will be deleted as a result of the choice (anything older than three or 18 months), and asks you to confirm your choice.

Google already allowed users to “pause” data collection for Web & App Activity altogether. If you have that enabled, there will be no data for Google to delete, but it still can’t hurt to enable another line of defense.

More Home Privacy Features

At I/O, Google was clearly looking to reassure users that its recent privacy and security gaffes don’t indicate fundamental tensions between its data-driven ad business and consumer-oriented products—a longstanding issue for the company.

Seemingly in response to revelations that units of its home security system Nest Secure contained a previously undocumented microphone (not to mention other smart home and smart assistant foibles), Google on Tuesday announced a privacy pledge for smart home devices.

“Our goal is simple: earn and keep your trust by clearly explaining how our products work and how we’ll uphold our commitment to respect your privacy,” Google says in the commitment statement.

The company also announced a new measure meant to expand the security offerings for Nest accounts—perhaps because of an epidemic of Nest account takeovers that has caused some very creepy situations. Beginning this summer, users will be able to migrate their Nest accounts into a new or existing Google account so they can have access to Google security features like suspicious activity monitoring and expanded options for two-factor authentication. Nest does already offer two-factor authentication, though, so you can also just make sure you have that turned on if you want to ward off takeovers without linking even more of your life to your Google account (or making a Google account in the first place if you don’t have one).