Home | Techaffair » News » Admins’ Privacy Controls Will Be Removed From Google Workspace, and Tracking Will Now Be Re-enabled
Security Global Security

Admins’ Privacy Controls Will Be Removed From Google Workspace, and Tracking Will Now Be Re-enabled

Google Workspace

Starting on March 29, Google is changing its infamous Web & App Activity controls for paid users of Google Workspace. That feature is now being split up into two settings, one still called Web & App Activity and another called Search history. The big news is that Google is taking advantage of this settings split to re-enable some tracking features, even if users have previously opted out.

Google has started emailing Workspace administrators about the change (thanks, Hacker News), and a support page gives some details about what’s going on. Both the email and support page are incredibly confusing—even Google’s own employees have a hard time parsing Google’s privacy controls—but we’ll try to shed some light on the situation.

The support page begins, Starting March 29, 2022, the Web & App Activity Admin console setting is going away. Web & App Activity is one of the two main Google privacy settings (along with Location History) that saves everything you do on your Google account. You might remember these settings from several lawsuits about how confusing and poorly labeled they were. Leaving these settings on means that features like autocomplete work better, but it also means that Google gets to keep all your activity.

Note that this line says the Admin control for the Web & App Activity setting is going away, not the entire setting itself. Google is saying the Web & App Activity feature will no longer be centrally controllable by your administrator. The crux of those earlier privacy lawsuits was that having privacy settings bizarrely split across two switches was unnecessarily confusing. Now, with Search History, privacy settings are split across three switches.

Google tries to describe the difference between the two changed settings, saying, Google Workspace search history collects search data for Google Workspace products like Gmail and Google Drive. Web & App Activity previously collected searches for all Google services. Now it only collects searches for additional Google services.

The terms Google Workspace products and additional Google servicesare the key to understanding that description. Basically, Google is splitting the data that was previously captured by Web & App Activity into two settings. Search History will only cover apps that are part of the Google Workspace product lineup. There is a full list of those services here, but it’s basically Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Contacts, Drive, Google Chat, and Keep—the business apps—and not Google Maps, Google Search, YouTube, and other products that lack a strong business use case. So for paying Workspace users, Search History will now cover usage data for Workspace stuff, while Web & App Activity will cover every other Google product that isn’t specifically listed in the Workspace terms.

Google’s reasoning for this change is that, because Workspace apps are paid for, Google never uses your data in Google Workspace core services for advertising,” the company said. So basically the new “Search History” setting could be called save data that won’t be used for ads.” Meanwhile, the “Web & App Activity” setting could be called “save data that will be used for ads. Google hopes that this distinction—if anyone can understand it—will lead to more privacy-conscious people leaving the Search History setting on.