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Going incognito: Hide footsteps on Google Maps, auto-delete YouTube history, erase audio from Assistant interactions

On America's National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, the tech giant wants to help users understand privacy better.

, ET Bureau|
Oct 10, 2019, 06.46 PM IST
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Google’s new privacy features include a password management tool that alerts users if their credentials have been compromised.
Google on Tuesday announced a slew of new features in keeping with the theme of this year’s National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM). Every October, stakeholders from the public and private sectors collaborate to raise awareness on the importance of cybersecurity, and this year, Google has ramped up its efforts at undoing the impression that it is lax on privacy by expanding its Incognito Mode to apps across its suite.

Users will now be able to search incognito on Google Maps, auto-delete their YouTube history, and delete audio recordings from their oral interactions with Google Assistant. Google’s thrust toward privacy is part of a larger effort to protect users’ data, and it comes at a time when rivals like Apple have pivoted to privacy, while issuing pointed barbs at the competition for commodifying data generated by users for financial gain. Companies like Google and Facebook have been on the receiving end of criticism for monetizing user data by doing business with advertisers.

"As technology evolves, so do people's expectations for security and privacy," Eric Miraglia, Google's director of product management for privacy and data protection, said in a blog. "We look forward to building protections that aim to exceed those expectations, and will continue sharing regular updates about this work," her statement read.

However, the newly introduced privacy features are not foolproof. Upon launching Incognito Mode in the Maps app, a popup is triggered with the message: Turning on Incognito Mode in Maps does not affect how your activity is used or saved by internet providers, other apps, voice search, and other Google services.

This implies that extraneous actors could still access your search logs, in the same way a product search made in Google Chrome’s incognito mode will subsequently result in targeted advertisements promoting the item you searched for. The supposedly ‘off-the-grid’ mode will come to Android in the beginning of October.

Google has not yet put a date on its release on iOS. Apple’s Maps app, which got a technical and cosmetic facelift, uses Differential Privacy to improve user experience whilst protecting data shared with Apple. Differential Privacy randomizes generated data so that the scrambled data chunks cannot be linked to any particular device.

Google’s new privacy features include a password management tool that alerts users if their credentials have been compromised. Voice commands and interaction with Google Assistant can now be deleted, preventing its being transcribed by human contractors to fine tune the AI-powered feedback loop.

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