Google is introducing a new search history control feature for Workspace users next month, which enables a form of tracking (previously know as Web & App Activity) by default and even if you disabled it in the past.
The new feature is launching on March 29, and it’s understandably causing anger among Workspace users because Google decided it was okay to turn tracking on by default. It’s possible to disable it again in settings, but the question is, why should we have to?
A discussion regarding the new feature appeared on HackerNews along with a Pastebin copy of the email Google is sending out to Workspace users. A HackerNews user called riverguardian, who claims to be a Google project manager, responded to the post explaining:
“Web and App Activity is designed to store search activity across all Google services, and we’re splitting Workspace data out since it’s governed by strict data handling guarantees, with the hope that more people will feel comfortable getting the benefits of better search in Workspace without having to opt-into search history being tracked for all Google services.”
It’s important to point out that Google Workspace core service data is kept separate to other Google services and is never used by Google for advertising, so this change shouldn’t expose Workspace user data to third parties. However, that’s separate from the core problem being highlighted here: Google decided to override the wishes of users who had previously disabled a form of tracking rather than making it an opt-in feature.
The change is more wide-reaching than that, though, as Google is making a further tweak. Previously, administrators within an organization had a separate Web & App Activity setting they could disable for all users at once. That setting is being removed. So imagine a company has 1,000 employees using Workspace and the Admin account disabled Web & App Activity for them all. After March 29, all 1,000 users will have it turned on automatically under the new name of “search history,” and it will be up to each individual to take the time to understand what that means and choose to disable the tracking feature if they wish to.