When you think user data privacy, Google isn’t necessarily the first name that comes to mind. However, the tech giant has been trying to change that over the past couple of years. With Android 12, Google gave users complete control over which apps can access their device’s camera and microphone, and also gave them the option of completely disabling these features systemwide.
Google’s shift towards user privacy was also in sharp focus during its keynote address at the I/O developer conference. The underlying theme of the opening day’s presentation was how Google is making the internet a safer place, and also giving users ownership of their data.
“Every day, we work to create a safer internet by making our products secure by default, private by design, and putting you in control of your data. This is how we keep more people safe online than anyone else in the world,” said Jen Fitpatrick, Senior Vice President — Core Systems & Experiences, Google, on Wednesday.
Fitzpatrick walked us through how Google is working towards protecting users from cyberattacks, which have scaled up massively in the past couple of years, with the increase in device usage caused by the pandemic. Not just big companies or government agencies, but also hospitals, banks, schools and individuals have been targeted. “Every day, we keep people’s data safe and secure through industry-leading security technology, automatic, built-in protections, and ongoing vulnerability research and detection,” Fitzpatrick said.
She said Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) and Project Shield have been working round to the clock to identify and neutralise malicious actors.
Fitzpatrick said Google is adding several features to ensure the safety and privacy of the regular user’s online data.
Account Safety Status: Google is adding a safety status to apps which will feature a yellow alert icon on their profile picture in case the account is compromised.
Phishing protections in Google Workspace: Gmail has for long had phishing and malware protections, which are now being expanded to cover Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides.
Virtual Cards: Though this feature will roll out to users in the United States at first, Fitzpatrick said Google is keen on making shopping online safer by protecting payment information. “We’re launching virtual cards on Chrome and Android. When you use autofill to enter your payment details at checkout, virtual cards will add an additional layer of security by replacing your actual card number with a distinct, virtual number. This eliminates the need to manually enter card details like the CVV at checkout,” she explained.
Minimising your data footprint: Leveraging techniques like edge processing and ephemerality, Google says it will shrink the amount of your personally identifiable data.
De-identifying data: Through “blurring and randomising identifiable signals, to adding statistical noise”, Fitzpatrick said Google uses a range of anonymisation techniques to strip users’ identity from their data.
Restricting access: Google will harness technologies like end-to-end encryption and secure enclaves to make it technically impossible for anyone, including Google, to access users’ sensitive data.
“Privacy is personal, and safety is a bit different for each individual. That’s why our privacy and security protections are easy to access, monitor and control,” Fitzpatrick added.
Control over search results: Fitzpatrick said Google will soon allow people to request the removal of Google Search results containing their contact details — phone numbers, home addresses, email addresses, etc. This feature will be available in the coming months on the Google App, and one can also access it by clicking the three dots next to individual Google Search results, she said.
“It’s important to note that when we receive removal requests, we will evaluate all content on the web page to ensure that we’re not limiting the availability of other information that is broadly useful, for instance in news articles,” said Danielle Romain, Vice President of Trust, Google.
First Published: IST