If you were thinking of sharing your deepest, darkest secrets with Google’s freshly-rebranded family of generative AI apps, Gemini, just keep in mind that someone else might also see them. Google has made this explicitly clear in a lengthy Gemini support document where it elaborates on its data collection practices for Gemini chatbot apps across platforms like Android and iOS, as well as directly in-browser.
Google explained that it’s standard practice for human annotators to read, label, and process conversations that users have with Gemini. This information and data are used to improve Gemini to make it perform better in future conversations with users. It does clarify that conversations are “disconnected” from specific Google accounts before being seen by reviewers, but also that they’re stored for up to three years, with “related data” like user devices and languages as well as location. According to TechCrunch, Google doesn’t make it clear if these are in-house annotators or outsourced from elsewhere.
If you’re feeling some discomfort about relinquishing this sort of data to be able to use Gemini, Google will give users some control over how and which Gemini-related data is retained. You can turn off Gemini App Activity in the My Activity dashboard (which is turned on by default). Turning off this setting will stop Gemini from saving conversations in the long term, starting when you disable this setting.
However, even if you do this, Google will save conversations associated with your account for up to 72 hours. You can also go in and delete individual prompts and conversations in the Gemini Apps Activity screen (although again, it’s unclear if this fully scrubs them from Google’s records).
A direct warning that’s worth heeding
Google puts the following in bold for this reason – your conversations with Gemini are not just your own:
Please don’t enter confidential information in your conversations or any data you wouldn’t want a reviewer to see or Google to use to improve our products, services, and machine-learning technologies.
Google’s AI policies regarding data collection and retention are in line with its AI competitors like OpenAI. OpenAI’s policy for the standard, free tier of ChatGPT is to save all conversations for 30 days unless a user is subscribed to the enterprise-tier plan and chooses a custom data retention policy.
Google and its competitors are navigating what is one of the most contentious aspects of generative AI – the issues raised and the necessity of user data that comes with the nature of developing and training AI models. So far, it’s been something of a Wild West when it comes to the ethics, morals, and legality of AI.
That said, some governments and regulators have started to take notice, for example, the FTC in the US and the Italian Data Protection Authority. Now’s a good time as ever for tech organizations and generative AI makers to pay attention and be proactive. We know they already do this when it comes to their corporate-orientated, paid customer models as those AI products very explicitly don’t retain data. Right now, tech companies don’t feel they need to do this for free individual users (or to at least give them the option to opt-out), so until they do, they’ll probably continue to scoop up all of the conversational data they can.