How to Use Auto-Delete for Google Location History & Activity Data

Google autodelete

It has been a long time coming, but Google has finally introduced a simple setting for automatic deletion of certain key categories of your activity data.

The new auto-delete function applies to Location History and Web & App Activity data. Enabling it means you can choose one of two time limits for how long you want your data under these categories to be saved – and any data older than that will be automatically deleted.

Here’s a closer look at what’s changed and why – along with an explanation on how to activate the auto-delete function.

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What types of data do the changes apply to?

So far, it seems that the auto-delete function will be limited to the following types of data:

  • Web & App Activity. Where this is turned on, your activity data (including search history) is saved in your Google Account. Its stated purpose is to enable smoother and more personalised usage experiences.
  • Location History. This Google Account-level setting applies to mobile devices. When turned on and when you are signed into your Google Account, it saves your history of locations visited. (For it to work, you also need to have the Location Reporting on the specific device turned on).

How do you activate auto-delete controls for Web & App Activity and Location History?

Auto-Deleting Web & App Activity Data

  1. Open your Google Account and tap/click on ‘Manage your Google Account’
  2. Select ‘Manage your data & personalization’ from the Privacy & personalization box
  3. From the Activity controls box, select Web & App Activity
  4. Tap on ‘MANAGE ACTIVITY’ and then select ‘Choose to delete automatically’
  5. Tap to select ‘Keep for 18 months’ or ‘Keep for 3 months’, select ‘Next’ and then ‘Confirm’.

All Google Web & App activity data older than your selected timeframe will then be deleted. Data will then continue to be deleted automatically while your data retention preference remains in place.

Auto-Deleting Location History Data

Your Location History can be controlled and managed via the Google Maps Timeline. While it’s possible to manually edit or delete information through the Timeline, there isn’t yet a ‘Choose to delete automatically’ function for this. Google stated in May that the auto-delete functions will be rolled out “in the coming weeks” - so presumably it’s a case of watching and waiting until the functionality is added to your Maps page.

What has prompted the change?

Google states that it is committed to making it easier for users to manage their data and guard their privacy. Along similar lines, we reported recently that the upcoming Android Q release will make it easier to control access to shared files on Android devices and to take control of location permissions.

But it’s also worth remembering the wider context. For the first quarter of this year, Google’s revenue was more than $36 billion. The bulk of this is, of course, driven by advertising. To keep this revenue rolling in, Google has to continue to offer advertisers the ability to distribute hyper-relevant, personalized advertising content: something that is impossible to do if users are unwilling to make their data available.

So how do you convince users that their data is in safe hands? One way is to give the impression that you are actively helping users take back control of their privacy. Auto-deleting at 3 or 18 months gives you the option of periodically cleansing certain parts of your data footprint. But is there an option of automatically clearing your data after a day or week? Of course not - precisely because this ‘fresh’ data is still very valuable to advertisers.

The relationship between location data and other types of data

Just be aware that even if you do turn off location history tracking, you may still have details saved in your Google Account as part of your usage of other Google sites, apps and services. So if you don’t want Google to track where you’ve been, don’t just turn off Location History; make sure you disable Web & App Activity also!

And if it’s only ads that you want to stop…

If personalized advertising is your main bugbear, don’t forget that you can switch this off via the Ad personalization box accessed via the Data & personalization section of your Google Account page.

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  • Nathan House

    Nathan House is the founder and CEO of StationX. He has over 25 years of experience in cyber security, where he has advised some of the largest companies in the world. Nathan is the author of the popular "The Complete Cyber Security Course", which has been taken by over half a million students in 195 countries. He is the winner of the AI "Cyber Security Educator of the Year 2020" award and finalist for Influencer of the year 2022.

  • BornSmart says:

    Is there any evidence lately that Google continues to send data, even if ALL my privacy settings like location and browsing history are turned OFF?

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