Google has announced an array of improvements and new features to enhance the privacy and security of end-users on Google as well as Android at their I/O 2019 conference.
Improvement of privacy across Google’s platforms seems to be on top of the company’s list this year. Here we talk about seven key updates announced by the company, which are aimed at improving the security and privacy of users across Google products, including apps, websites and devices.
“Your data is not private if it’s not secure. We’ve always invested in systems to keep our users safe—from our Safe Browsing protection that protects nearly 4 billion devices every day to blocking more than 100 million spam and phishing attempts in Gmail every day,” Google stated.
“We strongly believe that privacy and security are for everyone. We’ll continue to ensure our products are safe, invest in technologies that allow us to do more for users with less data, and empower everyone with clear, meaningful choices around their data.”
Auto-delete feature for user data
Earlier this month, we reported that Google is testing the auto-delete feature for location history and web/app activity data. The company has now announced that the auto-delete feature has been rolled out for Web & App activity and is coming soon to Location History too.
Managing data in Google apps
Last year, the company had also made it easier for people to review their ‘Search activity’ — data stored by Google Search. Building on that, Google has rolled out a much-needed update that helps users find, review and delete their activity data directly in apps such as Search, Maps and Assistant. A similar feature for the YouTube app will be rolled out soon.
Incognito Mode in Google Apps
Incognito mode was first launched with Google Chrome and since has been a useful tool for those looking to surf the internet without their browser history being saved in your device. Google has already added the same incognito mode in YouTube and will soon be rolling it out to their popular apps such as Maps and Search.
To turn on the incognito mode, tap on your profile picture inside the app and then ‘Turn on Incognito mode‘. Once turned on, the incognito mode icon will replace your profile picture. To turn off the incognito mode, tap on the incognito icon and then on ‘Turn off Incognito mode‘.
For example, if you turn on incognito mode in Maps, the place you search or get directions to won’t be saved to your Google account.
Easy access to your Google Account
The company is making it easier for users to access their Google account by adding your profile picture — that appears on Gmail, Drive, Contacts and Pay — to other Google products such as Search, Maps, YouTube, Chrome, Assistant and News.
This will not only make it easier for users to identify when they’re signed into their Google account but also make their privacy controls quickly accessible via ‘Manage your Google Account’ option that shows up when you click on the profile picture.
Android Security Key
Android phone’s built-in security key is now generally available to over a billion compatible devices running Android 7.0+ (Nougat). The security key provides the strongest form of verification against phishing attacks.
All of the compatible devices have a built-in key that can now be activated to enable two-step verification.
Federated learning for AI
Google says, “Advances in machine learning are making our privacy protections stronger”. And Federated learning is an example of the company bringing improved privacy for users without dulling down their products — doing more with less data.
With federated learning, developers will now be able to train AI models to make products smarter with your data ever leaving the device.
For example, Google’s Gboard now users federated learning to improve typing predictions. Gboard can now learn a word even if you haven’t typed it personally but because it’s being typed on a number of other devices.
Differential Privacy Protections
Google is also investing more in differential privacy protections, which trains machine learning models to learn new things without memorising data that can reveal anything about a specific user. This type of ML models can already be seen in Chrome, Gmail’s Smart Compose, and Google Maps feature that shows how busy a restaurant is; and with the open-source TensorFlow Privacy’s release, ML developers can use the differential privacy protection tech more easily than before.
Google has also updated the look of Android Auto, announced 2019 Google Play award winners, updated Search and Lens with new visual features, made announcements for Android Q, Pixel 3a, Google Home and Nest, among other things.
Protection and Controls in Chrome
Google has also announced that in order to improve user’s privacy protection on the web, Chrome will make it easier for users to block or clear cookies that are used in the third-party context. This will have minimal effect on the cookies used in a first-party context.
“While Chrome has long enabled users to block cookies, these changes will let users continue to allow their online banking site, for example, to remember their login preferences—a function that first-party cookies enable,” said Prabhakar Raghavan, SVP, Google Ads & Commerce.
In addition to control over cookies, Google Chrome will also be restricting fingerprinting across the web. Google itself doesn’t use fingerprinting for personalising ads as it doesn’t allow user control or transparency and they won’t let others bring fingerprinting data in Google ads.
This is aimed at ensuring that a user can access products supported by ads without having to worry about their privacy being intruded.
Transparency in Ads
Google already provides tools like ‘My Activity’, ‘Ad Settings’, ‘Why this Ad’ and ‘Mute this Ad’ for a user to get details about personalised ads and control the tailoring, stop seeing certain ads or opt-out entirely.
Now, Google will also be transparent about the data that is being used to personalise these ads for a particular user and who is using this data.
Google will be releasing an open-source browser extension, which will work across different browsers, and will disclose the names of the company that used your data in the process of showing you that ad. The information by the browser extension will include the intermediaries between an advertiser and publisher as well as the ad trackers present in an ad. The extension will also show the factors used to tailor an advert to a particular user.
Google is also working on APIs that will enable other advertising companies to be transparent and show similar information to the users. Both the browser extension and API will be rolled out in the coming months.
Prayank heads the Editorial at Candid.Technology. When not writing, he loves taking trips on his bikes or chugging beers as Manchester United battle rivals.
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