[PRIVACY] What Does Google Know About You?

Category: Privacy

Google provides a cornucopia of useful services: search, email, cloud storage, productivity tools, and much more. Virtually all of them are free for personal use, and not very expensive for businesses and other organizations. But free stuff comes with a price. Read and learn what's in your Google dossier, and how to limit what information is collected...

Everything Google Knows About You (and How to Restrict It)

Do you use Google Search, Chrome, YouTube, Gmail, Google Docs, Maps or any of these other Google services? If so, are you aware of the information that Google collects about your online activities?

Google wants to know everything about you, so that it can tell advertisers what you are likely to buy. There is nothing sinister about this; Google is up front about what data it collects and what is shared with advertisers.

But for many people, it comes as a surprise to learn exactly how much data Google collects and what inferences it draws from the data. You may want to see what Google knows about you, and limit what it can learn. Google makes it easy but not obvious.

Every Google account includes a “Web & App Activity” page, but it isn’t easy to find accidentally. Go to https://history.google.com/history and if you're not already signed into your Google account, do so. Click the arrow next to “Last week” and change it to “All time” to see everything Google has collected about you since your Google account was created.

Google Brain - What does Google Know About You?

Scroll down and you’ll find that Google notes everything you have searched for, the date and time you searched for it, what Web pages you viewed, what locations and driving directions you looked up on Google Maps.

At the top of this activity page, Google assures you, “Only you can see this data. You’re in control. You can delete items or update this setting anytime in Settings.” So let’s go to Settings and see how to do that. Click on the “hamburger” icon - three horizontal lines in the upper-left corner of the page - to open the settings for your Google history. A sidebar opens (see image) showing the categories of data collected.

Viewing and Managing Your Google History

Google History search categories

Don't get me wrong... I'm not saying that Google is violating your privacy by collecting information about your online activities. In my mind, it's a fair exchange, and you're in control. I also want to emphasize that Google does not provide personal or private information about you to third parties. As I said in my article Is Google's Privacy Policy Evil?, "I trust that they will only share aggregated, non-personally identifiable information, and that they're not selling my name, address and shoe size to any third parties. That article was published in 2012, and I've not seen any reason to change my opinion of Google's privacy policy or practices.

Click on any of the categories in Settings, e.g., “YouTube Watch History.” Check the box to the left of an item. Now click on the three stacked dots way over on the right end of the item. See the option to delete all records of views of a particular YouTube video? That can come in handy if you view a video, intentionally or not, that you’d rather not have anyone know you viewed.

In similar fashion, try the "Web & App Activity" or "Voice & Audio Activity" categories from the Settings menu at the top left. Scrolling through the list of items, you'll see it's organized by date. Note the check box next to a given date; check it and “1 day” appears in a menu bar at the top of this page. “Delete” deletes all of that type of activity for that day or any number of days you have selected.

Want more control? At the top of the screen, over on the right-hand side, you'll see a magnifying glass, a calendar page icon, and three vertical dots. Use the magnifying glass to find items in your history. Click the calendar page to see what you did on a given date. Click the dots to reveal the "Delete options" feature. You can use this to delete history items from Today, Yesterday, the Past 4 Weeks, or All Time.

Back in the Settings sidebar, “Activity Controls” (at the bottom of the screen) provides simpler, broader control over what Google collects about you. Click on any of the categories for an explanation of what it includes and why Google wants it. Slide the blue on/off button to the state that you desire. Google will try to convince you to leave it “on” but the choice is yours.

So you can control what Google collects about you, on a broad or item-specific basis. The problem is that Google collects so much data that micro-managing controls is an overwhelming chore. The “Activity Controls” are where you can set and forget your privacy preferences. The item-by-item or day-by-day controls are for special occasions when your default settings are not enough.

What's your opinion on limiting (or not limiting) what Google knows about you? Do you opt out of certain types of data collection, or do you let it ride? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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This article was posted by on 16 May 2016


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Most recent comments on "[PRIVACY] What Does Google Know About You?"

(See all 27 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Alan Miller
16 May 2016

I got to the page when I clicked on your link. I signed in......NOTHING on the page was clickable. NOTHING. I clicked on the top of the page and it took me to SETTINGS. And that was mostly about my Gmail. Nothing close to what you said was there. The only thing that I could click and something happened, was a calendar on the top left. When I clicked on any date I got "Error 500" every time I clicked it.


Posted by:

BobD
16 May 2016

Sure enough, there's my YouTube search history. A thousand years from now, paleoanthropologists will marvel when they find such things as my Jan 8, 2012 search for "shoelace tying" and Dec 22, 2011 search for "gorillas". I can understand searching for "shoelace tying", but I fail to comprehend why I searched for "gorillas".
And my Oct 16, 2013 search for "cat videos". Go ahead, roll your eyes. See if I care.


Posted by:

TomF
16 May 2016

Surprised at how much tracking is done, especially from activity that is not from me but somehow tied to my Google account. While reading your article, I opened the Google link you posited. No other windows active and no searches taking place on any device. But Google history showed simultaneous searches of sites apparently in Italy, one a banking site and one a news site. I occasionally get a misrouted e-mail intended for a similar gmail address. I wonder if I'm also getting "credited" with someone else's searches.


Posted by:

Eric
16 May 2016

Hmmm... well, there's nothing there. Everything in the history is "paused". I must have done this and deleted my previous history some time ago, maybe after having read another of your Google privacy articles... lol.


Posted by:

Winston K
16 May 2016

"Google wants to know everything about you, so that it can tell advertisers what you are likely to buy. There is nothing sinister about this;"

Oh Really! Sounds like Google should re-locate to North Korea.


Posted by:

Adolf Schmieder
16 May 2016

You Tube is a subsidiary of Google since 2006, purchased for $1.6 Billion. Yes everything you watch and search is available on Google's History page.


Posted by:

Buffet
17 May 2016

What if you don't have a Goggle account Bob?
(Thank you)


Posted by:

Harold
17 May 2016

Yes, Bob; can you tell what google knows about you if you use google search etc. but don't have a google account? Thanks!


Posted by:

Harold
17 May 2016

Yes, Bob; can you tell what google knows about you if you use google search etc. but don't have a google account? Thanks!


Posted by:

Dave
17 May 2016

I signed into Google in 1995. Google doesn't like sign-in prior to 2004. Does mean that I am NOT in the system?


Posted by:

top squirrel
17 May 2016

I checked what they have on me and it's pitiful how little they know. They had youtube items I don't even remember but very recently I watched several different performances of each of two different pieces of music on youtube and none of that was there. I conclude that even if you have a Google account, if you don't sign in (or check the box that says stay signed in) it won't show. Inasmuch as I use DuckDuckGo for searches and sign into Google only to use the mailbox, it's academic. I conclude it is really easy to protect your privacy. "Pause" all settings on Google, never let your webmail host know even your name, never enter your personal data anywhere else and never join Facebook and you're as good as invisible.
Am I right, Bob?
I'm more interested in making sure I don't get spam. Occasionally a spam email will promise to remove my email address if I just so request, but friends tell me that just assures them you're a "live address." But to do nothing means I just keep getting more of it. Suggestions?
To the guy who says he signed into Google in 1995: Try signing out. Bob's "history" check will tell you if you're signed in and in the system.


Posted by:

Frank
17 May 2016

I had turned off everything I could related to Google searches several days before this post, Bob. Maybe that's why I could not find my history of searches on Google. Or, have I missed how to locate list(s). I confess that I am not totally tech-savvy, so please, anyone comment on what I most likely did wrong. Thanks


Posted by:

VND
17 May 2016

Can/does Google collect data when you are not signed in; or on another browser; or are surfing in "private mode?"


Posted by:

Wolf
17 May 2016

And it's not just Google. I don't have a smart phone, but a friend told me that he and relatives were talking about controlling mosquitos on their deck - they were just talking, no searching/internet, etc. Within minutes he had an offer on his IPhone from Amazon trying to sell him an insect fogger, and then the targeted ads on web pages were also about mosquito control. He uses Siri, so she must have been listening.


Posted by:

Russ
17 May 2016

Thanks for the article. I was able to delete everything EXCEPT for Location. Perhaps I missed on how to do that? Do you know how that is done?


Posted by:

Sharon H
17 May 2016

As misterfish wrote, I too notice I get better search results from DuckDuck GO. Google is VERY intrusive. When I purchased a refurbished Android phone I was livid when I found that every photo I took was being uploaded to Google+. They want to know everything you are doing on your phone. Google is just plain scary.


Posted by:

RandiO
17 May 2016

Using session-only cookies and/or AdBlockPlus/NoScript Firefox plug-ins may give you that warm-and-fuzzy feeling for not logging into Google.
However [imho], the 600pound gorilla in the room is still your ISP and what it has the potential to know about your web shindigs!


Posted by:

Mike Regan
23 May 2016

Hi Bob,

I have not read all comments, but over the last month or so I been getting an email a day from different sources advertising stuff, but showing my full name. This has never happened before. Where are these low lifes getting my full name from? Could it be Google? I am thinking if they have my full name... what else they might have? Man this is getting scarey mate... so much so I feel like scrapping computers completely... or at least my online presence.


Posted by:

Mike Regan
23 May 2016

Wow, I didn't know my full name is posted here. Maybe I have just answered my own question. Gee Bob, me not a happy camper right now. Been following your stuff here a few years now but never realized this. Guess I am just a dill cause nobody else has put their full name.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Your name does not show up automatically here. Only what you enter on the comment form. And you're not the only person who use their full name in the comments.


Posted by:

Butch
24 May 2016

Bob, I just recently opened a Gmail account. I haven't followed the instructions you gave above just yet. Why not? Because Gmail keeps changing things around. Something that works one way today may work entirely differently tomorrow. That has caused me a good bit of confusion and irritation. When I try to follow your advice above later tonight, I realize that what you saw may not be what I see but I should still be able to find it--perhaps having to stand on my head? (Gmail lumps AskBobRankin as if it's some ad that I've clicked on.) Thanks again for looking out for us.


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