Google has just announced a change for users in Europe that will allow them to decide exactly how much data sharing is right for them. The new policy, which the company says is in response to the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA), allows users to opt out of data sharing for all, some or none of Google’s selected services. The services listed include YouTube, search, advertising services, Google Play, Chrome, Google Shopping and Google Maps. However, the policy is not airtight – Google will still share user information when necessary to perform a task (for example, when you pay for a purchase on Google Shopping using Google Pay), to comply with the law, to prevent fraud or to protect against abuse.
This is not the biggest change Google will have to make to comply with the DMA, which comes into effect on 6 March. The law also includes additional rules on interoperability and competition. For example, Google will no longer be able to treat its own search ranking services more favourably than those of other companies.
Not all Big Tech representatives agree with many of the changes introduced by the DMA. While Google has decided not to challenge its gatekeeper status, Apple, Meta and TikTok owner ByteDance are fighting in court.
The EU is not the only government to take issue with Google’s vast collection of user data. In the US, the Department of Justice has sued Google in what is believed to be the country’s biggest antitrust case since the government took on Microsoft in the 1990s. In one of its arguments, the Justice Department said that the sheer volume of user data that Google has collected over the years has led to the creation of a “data fortress” that helps the company remain the world’s leading search engine.
However, the new changes will result in compromises for some users. The company noted that if users unplug Search, YouTube and Chrome, personalised recommendations on YouTube will be disabled. If Search and Maps are unplugged, Google Maps will no longer be able to suggest locations (such as restaurants) based on previous activity. Google users will still have to choose between privacy and convenience, but at least in Europe they will be able to be more precise about where they draw the line.