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Google's Privacy Settings Finally Won't Break Apps Anymore

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My new Ad Center from Google on a phone.

Graphic: Google

For years, Google has provided users with a master privacy setting that controls a large part of the data collected about you, but using it had a huge downside: you had to give up various useful features in the company’s services. Today, that is changing. Google will be drastically revamping its settings, allowing you to fine-tune how data is used for targeted ads without breaking the apps you use every day.

The only way to prevent Google from using your data for targeted ads was to turn off personalized ads in your account or disable certain types of data using a few settings, including Web & App Activity and YouTube History. These two settings Check if Google collects specific details about what you do on their platform (you can see some of this data here). close The controls meant Google wouldn’t use the data for ads, but disabled some of the most useful features in services like Maps, Search, and Google Assistant.

This is no longer true, thanks to a new set of checks. You can now leave Web & App Activity and YouTube History turned on, but drill down to more specific settings to tell Google that you don’t want the relevant data used for targeted ads.

Details are embedded in an announcement regarding the rollout of a new hub for Google’s advertising settings called My Ad Centre. “You can decide what kinds of Google activities are used to show you ads without affecting your experience using the product,” wrote Jerry Dischler, vice president of advertising at Google. blog post.

This is an important step towards what experts call “usable privacy,” or data protection that is easy to manage without disrupting other parts of the internet.

If the majority of users had used all of the most specialized options in Google’s settings, it would have had a huge impact on the company’s business, perhaps even the economy as a whole. Apple has rolled out new privacy settings that have cost Meta (aka Facebook) billions of dollars in revenue over the past few years.

But it seems unlikely that Google will ask users to change their settings as proactively as Apple. After all, Google sells these targeted ads. Karin Hennessy, chief product manager of Google’s privacy and trust team, declined to say how many people the company expects to change their privacy settings. Hennessy shared that 260 million people visit their Web & App Activity settings each month; that seems like a big number, until you consider that only 6% of Google’s 4.3 billion users—and it’s about how many people visit the main Google privacy. page. The number of people who turn off the settings is probably less. Google wants you to know that these settings are available, but it may not be in the company’s best interest to use them.

You’ll find the new controls in My Ad Center, which started rolling out this week. It primarily acts as a hub for Google’s existing ad controls, but you’ll find some expanded options, new tools, and a host of other updates.

When you open My Ad Center, you’ll be able to fine-tune whether you see ads related to specific topics or advertisers. You can say you don’t want to see ads related to the energy industry, or you can tell Google you want to avoid it. Shell Oil especially, for example. You can also view the ads and advertisers you’ve seen recently and see all the ads that certain advertisers have posted in the last thirty days.

Google also includes a way to turn off ads on sensitive topics like alcohol, parenting, and weight loss. Unlike similar settings on Facebook and Instagram, you can’t tell Google that you don’t want to see ads about politics.

Correction: 20.10.2022 3:03 ET: A The previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the only way to turn off targeted plugins is to turn off settings, including Google’s. Web and App Activity. We fixed the above bug.

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