Power

Google's new magic number for storing personal data: 18 months

After years of adding more tools and settings, Google's changing its default settings for how long it stores user data.

Google security logo

Eighteen months is Google's magic new number.

Image: Google / Protocol

After years of answering users' privacy worries mostly with more options and buttons most people will never find, Google made a big change to how it works by default.

Eighteen months is Google's magic new number: From now on, when someone sets up a Google account, by default their data will be set to autodelete after 18 months. The same goes for Google's Location History feature, which tracks users even when they're not using Google products. Google's not changing the policy for existing users, saying it doesn't want to change users' settings without their knowledge, but it does plan to remind them about their options. Anyone looking for a more stringent plan can set things to autodelete after three months instead.

Why those numbers? Google says that the three-month timeline is about recency: It's enough time to get context and have some relevant information about what you've been up to recently. The 18-month option is about seasonality, so people can find information about their taxes, get recommendations based on last year's TV shows, and the like. Both are designed to keep Google feeling personal and current, the company said, whereas a weeklong time frame might make that impossible.

Not all Google products get the same treatment, of course. YouTube data will now live for 36 months by default, since Google figures recommendation quality is particularly important there. Users can choose to delete after three or 18 months if they want. And there's no such setting for Gmail, Drive or Google Photos, which are explicitly designed to store things for a long time.

Google's also trying to make it easier for people to access their settings, like turning "Google Privacy Checkup" into a search term that takes you straight to that page in your account. It's making it easier to switch into Incognito Mode, too — though some users have found Incognito Mode to not be very incognito.

Sundar Pichai said in a blog post that Google continues to "challenge ourselves to do more with less," and Google executives talked a lot about the company's use of differential privacy to work with personalized data without identifying users. The company also proudly announced it's using differential privacy and federated learning to train the Gboard keyboard with more secure, less personal data.

But it's the defaults that really matter. Google said that 200 million people visit its account page every year, but even that is a small fraction of those with a Google account. Far fewer likely find the Data & Personalization tab, or know what to do with the checkboxes and checkups they find there. Google has collected many years of remarkably specific data on its billions of users, and has framed data collection as something like a necessary trade-off. "Data helps make search work better for you, and with autodelete, you can choose how long you want it to be saved," Pichai said at Google I/O in 2019. There was always a sliding scale between better products and better privacy. Now Google's indicating it's willing to work with much less, with no sacrifices.

The announcement was partly a sort of victory lap for Google, which has been touting its ability to store lots of data without compromising user privacy. It's also a clear signal to regulators, employees and others worried about Google's privacy. Pichai's blog post, which also talked about Google's policies with facial recognition, AI and video chat security, was the closest thing to a "don't be evil" manifesto the company has published in some time.

It's not likely to convince the employees petitioning Google to stop selling to police, or those worried about the company's power in the ad market or the role YouTube recommendations play in the spread of disinformation. But better defaults go a long way to helping users feel comfortable with the idea of Google products, especially as those users get more sophisticated about how their data is collected and used. And not for nothing, "we don't keep your data!" is a pretty good line for Pichai to use in the coming antitrust hearings.

Fintech

Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep Reading Show less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep Reading Show less
FTA
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.
Enterprise

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep Reading Show less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.

Enterprise

Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins