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The future of data protection at Google – all the better?

After it had to be cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, Google was finally able to host its precious event, though on an unusually small scale: CEO Sundar Pichai and colleagues presented various innovations at Google I/O 2021 and gave insight into their future strategy. While the company is seeing progress in areas like machine learning and artificial intelligence, Sundar Pichai is aware that Google's products can only be "as helpful as they are safe". So, what will Google's data protection of the future look like?

Jen Fitzpatrick, engineer and senior vice president of Google Maps, lays out Google's three principles of data protection for this. Again, but with little innovation:


1. "Secure By Default"

Security is the default setting at Google. Already at the last I/O 2019, Sundar Pichai introduced the Auto-Delete. Since then, auto-delete has been the standard for all new Google accounts: Over 2 billion accounts are already configured to automatically delete its data every 18 months. However, it is also possible to customize this period personally.

Additionally, Google products are protected with advanced AI-driven technologies. For example, Gmail automatically blocks 100 million phishing emails every day and Google Play Protect scans 100 billion apps worldwide for security vulnerabilities.

The most widespread privacy problem, however, remains the poor use of passwords, according to Fitzpatrick. Too many people still use the same password for multiple accounts. The technology company wants to change that: With smartphone-based authentication, it is working toward a future in which we can do without passwords altogether.  

But in the meantime, the company's Password Manager is shaping up to be a suitable solution. To make this tool more helpful and user-friendly, four new upgrades are in the pipeline:

  • Passwords from other programs will be able to immigrate more easily into Google's Password Manager
  • Deeper integration across Chrome and Android, so that the tool can be used easily on websites and in apps
  • Automatic password alerts to notify users if any third-party privacy breaches have been detected
  • If a password is compromised, an assistant in Chrome navigates you directly to the affected account to change the respective password within seconds

2. "Private By Design"

By this principle, the company means to always make thoughtful decisions about their use of data, including for Google Ads. In doing so, Jen Fitzpatrick emphasizes that Google follows strict practices when handling data. For example, the company says it never sells personal information, to anyone. Data from apps such as Gmail, Photos or Drive as well as sensitive data (e.g. religion or origin) are not used for advertising or personalization purposes.

This does not match the perception that many critics have: The user pays with information. This is bundled into a personal profile and sold to third parties for profit as well. This does not change even if the data, that is particularly worthy of protection, is excluded or anonymized. So far, this can only be limited via the personal data settings in the browser.

In the answer to the question "Does Google sell my personal data?", the company itself writes: "We do not pass on any information that personally identifies you to advertisers unless you have given us permission to do so". Users often give such permission by agreeing to the terms and conditions and data protection policies - usually without reading them.

Advertisements remain elementary important for Google. According to the current announcements, they now want to make them more private and secure. For example, the "Privacy Sandbox Initiative" is supposed to bring forth new technologies to protect online privacy. Together with various players, Google wants to change the future of online advertising. It remains exciting and we are very interested in Google’s improved data protection in the future.

3. "You’re in control"

Google lets users have control of their own data via their privacy settings, which a whole 3 billion people take advantage of, according to the proclamation from Google itself.

After the incognito mode, known from Google Chrome, has also been added to other apps (e.g. Google Maps), Google now introduces further new functions, which will be implemented in the course of this year:

  • It will be easier to delete the search history of the past 15 minutes
  • In Google Maps, privacy settings will be more accessible, letting the user turn off the default history directly in the app
  • Photo albums on Google Photos can now be protected with fingerprint or PIN


    Thus, Google is continuously developing new features for their data protection. These are certainly the right steps on the way to increasingly secure and responsible data handling.

    However, this is contrasted by the unattractive practice that, for some time now, a privacy policy has been prominently displayed when googling and the user is requested to read and agree to it. If you refuse, the services cannot be accessed at all. A large proportion of users therefore agree to these policies out of convenience. To deduce from this that 3 billion people regulate their data privacy settings independently is already a very positive interpretation. In addition, it is still true today that all of Google's privacy notices are not only very extensive, but also often only vaguely formulated. If you really want to know in detail what data Google is using and how, we recommend the article "It's 2021. What does Google REALLY know about you?" from the very critical site

    Google and data protection remains an important topic - but it is definitely more important that everyone questions themselves critically and does not quickly agree to something out of convenience, thus allowing their data to be used. Simply by click.


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