Is Google Big Brother-ing You?

By Tracey Dowdy

Did you know that everything you do while you’re signed in to your Google account – and even some things you do when you’re logged off are part of your Google profile? 

That doesn’t just include your Google searches, it includes every song you listen to, Twitter rabbit hole you fall into, cooking video you watch, and even whether you’re using an Android or iOS smartphone. Perhaps even more concerning, Google Maps tracks you wherever you go, remembers the route you take, when you arrive and what time you leave, even if you don’t open the app. 

With everyone from Facebook to Dunkin Donuts admitting they’ve fallen victim to data breaches, Google announced they had created a privacy hub that allows users to access, delete, and limit the data Google can collect from you. The downside is that navigating all the terms and conditions, sorting through what you need and don’t need, and deciding if the features you’ve turned off leave you vulnerable, can be confusing, to say the least. 

These tips will help you sort through the jargon and limit what – and with whom – you’re sharing information.

The first step is to find out what information you consider private GooglTracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.e considers public. 

To see what Google is sharing about you: 

CNET suggests that if your goal is “to exert more control over your data but you still want Google services like search and maps to personalize your results, we recommend setting your data to autodelete after three months. Otherwise, feel free to delete all your data and set Google to stop tracking you. For most of the day-to-day things you do with Google, you won’t even notice the difference.”

  • Open a browser window and navigate to your Google Account page.
  • Enter your username
  • From the menu bar, select Personal info and review the information. At this point, you can change or delete your photo, name, birthday, gender, password, and any other email addresses and the phone number connected to your account. 
  • If you’d like to see what of your information is public, scroll to the bottom and select Go to About me. From here you can edit and delete, though there’s no way to make your account private. 

To review Google’s record of your online activity:

  • Sign in to your Google Account and choose Data & Personalization from the navigation bar.
  • Scroll to Activity Controls and select Web & App Activity to see a list of all your activities that Google has logged.
  • If you want Google to stop tracking your web and image searches, browser history, map searches and directions, and interactions with Google Assistant, uncheck both boxes. Otherwise, move on to the next step.
  • Next, click Manage Activity. This page displays all the information Google has collected on you from the activities mentioned in the previous step, dating back to when created your account.
  • You can set Google to automatically delete this kind of data either every three or every 18 months by selecting “Choose to delete automatically” and choose your timeframe. 
  • You can opt to delete part of all of your activity history manually. On the activity bar, go to Delete activity and choose either Last hour, Last day, All-time or set a Custom range.
  • Once you choose an autodelete setting or manually select which data you want to be deleted, a popup will appear and ask you to confirm.
  • To make sure your new settings are saved, go to Manage Activity and make sure whatever’s there (remember, if you deleted it all there shouldn’t be anything there) only goes back the three or 18 months depending on what timeframe you selected in step 5.

Access Google’s record of your location history

  • Sign in to your Google Account and choose Data & Personalization from the navigation bar.
  • Scroll to Activity controls and select Location History to see a list of all your location data that Google has logged.
  • If you want Google to stop tracking your location, toggle off.
  • Next, click Manage Activity. This page displays all the location information Google has collected on you as a timeline and a map, including places you’ve visited, the route you took there and back, as well as frequency and dates of visits.
  • To permanently delete all location history, click on the trash can icon and choose Delete Location History when prompted.
  • If you want to be sure your location data disappeared, start over with Activity Controls in step 2, then after Manage Activity in set 4 make sure the timeline in the upper left corner is empty and there are no dots on the map indicating your previous locations.

Manage your YouTube search and watch history

Again, CNET recommends setting YouTube “to purge your data every three months. That’s just long enough that YouTube’s recommendations will stay fresh, but doesn’t leave a years-long trail of personal data lingering behind.”

 

  • 1. Sign in to your Google Account and choose Data & Personalization from the navigation bar.

 

  • Scroll to Activity controls and select YouTube History to see a list of all your location data that Google has logged.
  • If you want Google to stop tracking your YouTube search and viewing history completely, turn off the toggle on this page.
  • Next, click Manage Activity – a comprehensive list of every search you’ve ever made and every video you’ve ever watched 
  • To set Google to automatically delete your YouTube data either every three or every 18 months, select “Choose to delete automatically” and select your timeframe.
  • To delete part or all of your activity history, on the navigation bar choose “Delete activity by” and choose either “Last hour,” “Last Day,” “All time” or “Custom range.”
  • Once you choose which data to delete, a popup will appear and ask you to confirm. 
  • To make sure your YouTube data is gone, start over with Activity Controls in step 2, then after Manage Activity in step 4 make sure whatever’s there (remember, if you deleted it all there should be nothing) only goes back the three or 18 months you selected in step 5.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

 

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