By Rafi Ko Teh
In a media round table involving 11 countries across the Asia Pacific region, tech giant Google announced several new privacy innovations, features, and policies recently launched or in the process of being implemented across its product lines.
Google’s chief privacy officer Keith Enright led the event conducted over Google Hangout on Friday, May 31, wherein he stressed Google’s commitment to give users control over their data.
“There is no one-size fits all solution that is going to optimize privacy preferences for everywhere in the world.” Enright explained. “There are users in every geography, in every part of the world, who are extremely privacy sensitive, and there are users who are less privacy sensitive. This is part of what forms Google’s commitment to build privacy for everyone based on transparency, choice, and control.”
One approach that Google is employing to ensure user privacy while still maintaining quality of its services is “federated learning”.
Federated learning is a variation of standard machine learning for mobile phones that does not require storing the training data on one machine or data center. Thus, privacy is guaranteed as individual training data never leaves the users phone.
New Privacy Features
Besides federated learning, the tech giant has four new features in their major products that streamline users’ data privacy management.
First is the one-tap access to a user’s Google account through the placement of users’ account profile picture on the top-right corner of the company’s applications. This simple addition of a user’s profile picture allows them to easily access their account’s privacy and security settings within the app.
One-tap access is already available on the Google products Gmail, Drive, Contacts, Pay, Search, Maps, YouTube, Chrome, the Assistant, and News.
The second, similar feature is access to data management options within Google products. This feature will be customized across different Google products. For example, in Maps, it will provide users the option to review and delete their in-app location activity data then smoothly switch back to their directions.
This feature is already available on Google Search and is coming soon to Maps, the Assistant, and YouTube.
The third feature is the auto-delete of activity on certain products. Last month, Google gave its users the option to select between three pre-set time periods that determine the amount of time their Web and activity data would be saved. The default option is indefinite, which means all Web and app activity will be saved unless another option is chosen. This option ensures the most effective search personalization for users.
If users are not comfortable with their data being saved however, they can decide to save data for either 3 or 18 months only. Any data older than their chosen time period will be automatically deleted.
Auto-delete is already available for Google’s Web and App Activity and will be coming later this June to Location History.
Last but not least is the wider implementation of the Incognito mode feature. In Chrome, Incognito mode gives users the ability to browse the Internet without their activity being saved to their browser or device. Incognito mode will be able to provide similar services once implemented in other Google Apps.
While there was no launch date announced for Incognito Mode on Google Search and Maps, it is currently available on YouTube.
Google stressed that innovations and features are not enough to ensure privacy for user’s data.
“We recognize that we have an obligation to have the strongest possible policies and procedures that govern access to data and sharing of data with third party developers,” Enright added.
Two of Google’s most recent policies on this areas were released last month. These were regulations that limit the data accessed by third-parties on the Chrome Web Store and tighten the Google Drive API.
On the Chrome Web Store, third-party application requests to access data will only be approved if the data requested is appropriate for the features offered by the specific application. Google will even be requiring more developers to post privacy policies in connection with the extensions they are offering on the Chrome Web Store.
In terms of the Google Drive APIs, the company will be restricting third-party applications access to specific files on Google Drive. Additionally, Google will be verifying the claims of some public apps for broader access.
“In Google, we feel that we have the greater obligation than just iterating.” Enright stated at the event. “We believe that we are uniquely positioned to innovate in the field of privacy engineering to create new technologies that will actually make material advances and improvements for user privacy, not only across Google products and services but across the Internet and industries as a whole.”
The countries who participated in the media round table include Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand. Singapore, and the Philippines.