Everything Google Knows About You (and How to Delete it)

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 history, and how to limit what information is collected...

Your Online Privacy: What Does Google Know About You?

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 “My Google Activity” page, but it isn’t easy to find accidentally. Go to https://myactivity.google.com/myactivity and if you're not already signed into your Google account, do so. 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 you looked up on Google Maps, and other online activity.

Google Brain - What does Google Know About You?

In the middle of this activity page, Google assures you, “Only you can see this data. Google protects your privacy and security" and "You can see and delete your activity using the controls on this page." The first way to control the scope of data that appears here is the Search box. You can search for an item in your activity, or filter the results by date or product. Google "products" include Chrome, Calendar, GMail, Maps, Youtube, and a bunch more.

Viewing and Managing Your Google History

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.

I suggest you try "Other Google Activity" and explore the items there. Start with “YouTube Watch History” by clicking the "Manage Activity" link that appears below that heading. Now click on the three stacked dots over on the right side of an item. See the option to delete your history of viewing that 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. On this page you can also delete all videos viewed on a given date, or click the "Change Setting" button and there you'll find a slider to pause (but not delete) your Youtube Watch History. To delete your entire Watch History, click the three vertical dots in the Search box, then click "Delete Activity By". Specify a date of "All time" (or any date range you wish) and click Delete.

Returning to the "Other Google Activity" page, 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 they are organized similary by date. Some of these categories give finer control over what is collected, how long that data is kept, and how to delete it from your Google history. Recently, Google added new controls in the "Web & App Activity" section, which allow you to automatically delete items after 3 months, 18 months.

I found the Location History section particularly interesting. I generally keep location services turned on for my mobile device, so I was able to review some of my past travels. So Google knows I was in Portland Oregon back in 2015, and that I visited my local library on Wednesday. That doesn't bother me. In fact, I've used Location History to help me trace my steps on a particular date, and remember where I was. If you're trying to shed some pounds, and you don't want your spouse to know you've been visiting the donut shop, you can delete your Location History.

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...

google search history, google privacy, disable google data collection, turn off google history, google privacy controls

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Most recent comments on "Everything Google Knows About You (and How to Delete it)"

Posted by:

05 Jul 2019

I use Google Maps and Youtube on occasion when I am looking for something or an location.I find them very useful.However,I do not have an account with them so the advice to delete or restraint information with Google doesn't apply to me.

The best I can do is clear any cache,cookie and browsing info on my computer.I use Firefox and just press "Clear Recent History" to clear all that out.My desktop computer doesn't have GPS connectivity so location tracking isn't an issue.Google would see my IP address with activity and that is about it.Does anyone on here have an different viewpoint where I should be worry about something?

Posted by:

05 Jul 2019

Yes Google and others have lots of information, but a few times I found useful stuff I would not otherwise have found. Ditto Amazon.

Posted by:

Jerry Halford
05 Jul 2019

Is there a downside of deleting all this information, or from prohibiting Google from collecting/storing it? Thank you.

Posted by:

05 Jul 2019

Yeah, I'm not falling for that trick... signing up for a google account.

They can just track me by my IP address, as I use my VPN so help confuse their system a little.

They may be tracking me anyway, but I'm not going to just hand it over to them by using their services and signing up for a google account!

That's just begging to be tracked.

Posted by:

05 Jul 2019

Sheesh! It tracks by the minute and it appears there's no way to delete even 1-day all at once.

Posted by:

05 Jul 2019

Oops! "Delete activity by" allows the deletion by date.

Posted by:

05 Jul 2019

"But FREE stuff comes with a PRICE." An oxymoron?
More appropriately, maybe such tactics be should be categorized as "FOISTware" or PUP (potentially unwanted program) or PUA (potentially unwanted application) or sumsuch!
Maybe it is less cumbersome to not use any google services, rather than spending laborious hours in attempts to erase your google digital crumb trails repeatedly. But there is always that great excuse about not having anything to hide! ;)

Posted by:

05 Jul 2019

Went to google activity page linked in article. Am I stupid?

It says, "You can see and delete your activity using the controls on this page." Really? Did I miss something?

Is there an easy way to delete EVERYTHING with 1 or 2 clicks? Google has a flair for writing in English but appearing as Chinese (to me).

I am able to delete manually, but I have to click every item going back months.

The "auto delete" still saves for 3 months minimum. Is there a way to delete daily?


Posted by:

05 Jul 2019

This illustrates nicely why I use Pale Moon / Firefox instead of Chrome, and Duck Duck Go as my search engine instead of Google.

I also rely on AdBlock Plus to screen out as many obnoxious (and perhaps poisonous) ads as possible.

Posted by:

06 Jul 2019

By deleting the data, that does not mean it is deleted. That just means the Google does not show you the data when you look for it. I am sure that they continue collecting the data and use it for their advantage.

Posted by:

06 Jul 2019

I use Vivaldi and FireFox, have my search engine as Startpage/Advanced as it does not track searches, I NEVER use Google search and use my iPhone app for directions, so there was nothing there but my YouTube views which I don't care about and I do use a gmail account as a backup though for nothing else. Amazing how much stuff they track. But not surprising.

Posted by:

Jay R
08 Jul 2019

It looks like it's gone. However, I share Gary's suspicions. Deleting stuff on my HD doesn't mean it isn't there. Google is probably having a big laugh just now, saying to one another, "There's another sucker that thinks he deleted his stuff. HAR, HAR, HAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Great article, Bob.

Posted by:

15 Jul 2019

It is quite amazing what they store and my question is related to that.
How is this huge amount of data from virtually every PC and Android phone user stored? Massive hard disk farms?
Does anyone know? If yes, what is the storage capacity thereof? Will they ever have to roll-over or do they just expand?

Posted by:

Raymond K
16 Jul 2019

Well, you trade them collecting information on your online activity and interests for free use of their services and they usually (sort) your returns from a search to cater to your interests and, of course, place ads to products of your interest on every page you download to your machine. Sounds like a far trade to me... lol

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