Here’s What Google Knows About You (and how you can delete it)

Category: Privacy

Google provides a boatload of useful services: search, email, cloud storage, productivity tools, and much more. Most of them are free for personal use, and not very expensive for businesses and other organizations. But in the online world, 'free stuff' often comes with a price. Read on and learn what's in your Google history, how to limit what information is collected, and how to delete the rest…

Your Online Privacy: Here's What Google Knows About You

Do you use Google Search, the Chrome browser, YouTube, Gmail, Google Docs, Maps or any of these other 80+ 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 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, what is shared with advertisers, and how to limit that data collection.

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 lists items you have recently searched for, the date and time you searched for them, 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, “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 Assistant, Chrome, Calendar, GMail, Maps, Search, Youtube, and a bunch more. Did I mention there are over 80 of them?

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.

If you’re interested in online privacy, read my related articles How to Control Facebook Ads (sort of) and Is There a Delete Button for the Internet?

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. Scroll down to see recently watched videos. See the “X” over on the right side of an item? That can be used 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 "Saving Activity" 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 (at the top of the page) then click "Delete Activity By". Specify a date of "All time" (or any date range you wish) and click Delete.

Recently, Google added new controls which allow you to automatically delete items after 3 months, or 18 months. Click the "Auto-delete" button to set your preference.

Returning to the "Other Google Activity" page, try the "Web & App Activity" category. 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.

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 Stowe, Vermont last month, and that I visited my local post office on Thursday. 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. But if 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.

I've been asked if there is a downside to deleting all this information, or prohibiting Google from collecting and storing it? In my opinion, the answer for most people is yes. If you use the Internet, you're going to see ads. Personally, I'd rather see ads for products and services that might be of interest to me, rather than randomly selected ads for things I would never buy. And from the advertiser’s side, being able to accurately target people with relevant ads should reduce their cost, and ultimately (hopefully?) the cost of consumer goods.

And as I mentioned in the sidebar, I do trust that Google will share only aggregated, non-personally identifiable information. I've been using Google services for 20+ years, and I've not seen any evidence to the contrary.

But of course, to each his or her own. It's good to have choices. 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 Jul 2021


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Most recent comments on "Here’s What Google Knows About You (and how you can delete it)"

(See all 27 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

chris
16 Jul 2021

Just to add to the paranoia of the USofA. Did you know that there is actually a book with your name, your home address, and your personal phone number?
It is called the telephone book. :-)


Posted by:

Stephe
16 Jul 2021

Well, I checked. Google has no information on me.

I don't use Chrome, Gmail, Google search (except anonymously via StartPage), and only ever sign into the account I had to make when I (briefly) had an Android phone 5 years or more ago, when you say "Check what Google knows about you"...

I block most ads and ignore those that get through and don't need these to be "relevant" to somebody they think I am.

I doubt I'm losing out on anything worth having. There is life beyond Google.


Posted by:

Tress
16 Jul 2021

"There is nothing sinister about this; Google is up front about what data it collects, what is shared with advertisers, and how to limit that data collection."

Try to keep your write ups facts based and without your opinions that are wrong. You are a naive blind tool if you think google does not have evil intentions. Perhaps your definition of evil is far off from reality! My goodness! Do I have to point out the obvious that 'using me as a commodity' is in itself wrong? I didnt make any money from it and I wasnt asked if I wanted to be spied on! Google has upped their evil game in everything they have been doing the last 5 yrs to curb the narrative and suppress conservatives! They are acting like tech lords who rule the internet! I suspect that you are in bed with google! Your comment defies reality! Thats exactly what lefties do!

BOB ARE YOU A LEFTIE? PLEASE INFORM YOUR AUDIENCE SO CONSERVATIVES CAN ACT APPROPRIATELY. DO YOU HAVE THE INTEGRITY TO INFORM US THAT YOU ARE CARRYING WATER FOR GOOGLE?

EDITOR'S NOTE: So I tell you how to DELETE the data that Google has collected, and limit or stop any future data collection... and you think I'm carrying water for Google? Strange logic. Since I started publishing in 1995, I've been careful to keep my personal opinions on social and political matters out of the mix. As another reader said, "there is enough cancel culture out there".


Posted by:

Cathlin
16 Jul 2021

I wish they WOULD sell my shoe size (womens size 13 narrow) to a company that sells cheap shoes, LOL!


Posted by:

Linda
16 Jul 2021

Google had been censoring and bouncing my emails back into my spam file whenever I sent emails to friends and family that did not align with their leftist ideology. I complained to DSL Extreme and they assured me "no human sees your emails." That does not matter. A "human" at Google programs their logarithms to snoop and censor. I signed up with Proton Mail. No problems! Note: James O'Keefe, Project Veritas, uses Proton Mail.


Posted by:

Robert T Deloyd
16 Jul 2021

Tress, there is enough cancel culture out there and I believe it's none of anybody's business of Bob's political leanings.
I do agree with you that Google is silencing conservative viewpoints, suppressing critical news, and promoting left-leaning idiocracies thereby interfering with the 2020 election, also any important news about where Covid 19 originated was taken down on YouTube until just recently.
Yes, Google can be evil, can do evil, and what that means for the future of our nation is yet to be exposed.
After saying all this, I still use Google, but I am always looking for something comparable and there hasn’t been anything close. I did get rid of those “Hey Google” “Alexa” and Apple “Siri” thingies :)


Posted by:

RandiO
16 Jul 2021

Someone pushed my button and I recall a recent reference in these pages about how Tim Berners-Lee is (errrr...) disappointed with the way his baby Web has grown-up to what it has become today. Okay, maybe we can say he has been singing the chicken-little song for over a decade for his idea of an "open-web" (as CTO of Inrupt) which maybe financially incentivized... Although, he has never specifically referenced that 600pound bear scarfing up any/all data as if s/he is just coming out of a long and foodless hibernation. It is also guaranteed that this bear will most certainly poop out all that data much much sooner than +/- 3 to 18 months or so. Unfortunately, this bear’s “data digestion” process has become even much much larger than the 600pound bear itself, since birth.
I am yet to find a real definition of what “TRUST” means besides being a self-serving feeling which has zero effect on the one that the TRUST is being laid upon (gorillas, bears and even autonomous vehicles). TRUST is but a binary moment in quantum-space and one which can be a fleeting moment in our terra firma; like vaporware, which may seem to be here this second but maybe gone the next. If I must; I’d rather take my chances in LV than putting all my eggs in one single basket, especially if that basket is 599pounds. ty


Posted by:

Brian B
17 Jul 2021

"Even if you delete all or some of your activity, Google still maintains records about the way you used its web browser related to the deleted data".
Business Insider


Posted by:

Wild Bill
17 Jul 2021

I generally believe Google has substantially failed in living it's "Do No Evil" creed, but the evil is more in their sociopolitical behavior than in their use of data aggregation. However, I try to use their products as little as is reasonable and I am untrusting of their continued support, having seen them abruptly lose interest in some product, likely based on financial return decisions. Their choice and, as the owner of two Surface RT tablets I must say they aren't the only *****'s out for our dough. Duck-Duck Go provides a decent, relatively anonymous alternative to Google Search for me.


Posted by:

BDD
17 Jul 2021

Well, I had no problem using the link above. After signing in there was NO items to delete. All the slider buttons were turned off.
Actually, I was expecting to see a boatload of entry's but nothing what-so-ever.


Posted by:

Michael
17 Jul 2021

Good article but my settings are like BDD all off, nothing to delete.


Posted by:

Helene
17 Jul 2021

Google (Alphabet) is indeed evil. Remember back a few years ago when google had the moniker "Do No Evil" ?

And then it suddenly disappeared. Now why would ANY company post "Do No Evil" on their home page.

Answer: Because they are evil. Who would even think of posting a statement like that on their website in the first place? Only someone who had evil on their mind. This evil monster company is in cahoots with not only the 3 letter government agencies but also the CCP. You cannot get more evil than that.


Posted by:

Brian B
17 Jul 2021

@ BDD & Michael, see my post above. Just because you have deleted, or blocked, your activity doesn't mean Google doesn't have a record of it.


Posted by:

Ken Heikkila
17 Jul 2021

I have several Google accounts and no problem with the info they collect in general, but your link: https://myactivity.google.com/myactivity leads to a blank page in my Vivaldi browser.....not at all helpful.


Posted by:

Brian B
17 Jul 2021

Googles latest take on privacy.

"With FLoC, by simply browsing the web, you are automatically placed into a group based on your browsing history (“cohort”). Websites you visit will immediately be able to access this group FLoC ID and use it to target ads or content at you. It’s like walking into a store where they already know all about you! In addition, while FLoC is purported to be more private because it is a group, combined with your IP address (which also gets automatically sent to websites) you can continue to be tracked easily as an individual."

Time to ditch Google Chrome


Posted by:

SharonH
18 Jul 2021

Tress is 100% correct. Bob, you are very naive. Perhaps years ago Google was innocuous, but no more. We are heading more towards a police state and Google is a master at knowing who you are, and whether you follow the dictates of one side (or not).
A year or so ago, I would have considered my above paragraph to have been written by someone who was paranoid. After the insane actions that are going on today, I now believe it to be true.
Google is not your friend. Just note how many times it wants you to login to a particular page through your Google account. Its tentacles reach far and wide. No thank you.


Posted by:

Lynn
21 Jul 2021

Thanks for the info, Bob. It was really useful. I use google as one of my emails and for YouTube. I had no idea I'd been dragged to the cross-roads and been forced to sell my soul to the devil. (Does it mean that I can now play guitar?)
Perhaps I was given a warning... And believe me, as a long time reader I am so embarrassed about this next bit. It was very late and I was beyond tired (my only excuse) when Bing's lousy news feed angered me beyond reason (Prince bloody Harry - again).
I decided to download Chrome to see if they had fixed it to play properly on my Surface yet, so off I went to Google. Perhaps I blinked. I certainly didn't check. In the recesses of my tiny mind, I did register that something was funny that I was having to press download again, but I completely ignored it.
When I actually opened Chrome, I couldn't make sense of a folder marked pop-ups on the title bar, nor of a warning about pop-ups, so I shut the whole thing down without actually using it as a browser, and went to bed, deciding I would work it out at a later date, set my default back to Bing, then completely forgot about it. Was that the warning that Google was evil?
I seldom check spam but about a fortnight later, I did. The morning after the chrome incident I'd received an email that Google had flagged as dangerous to respond to.
It was lovely. Its header was the first part of a psswd I'd used before changing to Last Pass. It said they had my passwords and mailing list.
Apparently when I was on a p*rn site they had downloaded a keylogger and had also filmed me 'enjoying myself'.
Unless I sent them £4,800 and change, they would send everyone on my list an excerpt of what I was watching and what I was doing. (A craft channel perhaps, and me doing crafts? I've never actually been to a p*rn site - ever) NB statistically, women prefer print to pictures.
Nasty, though. Especially since the dodgy Chrome exe would have apparently jumped the user to p*rn if used.
You guessed it. I'd been jumped away from the real Google site, and didn't notice. The price for my absolute stupidity was cleaning out my computer. Getting rid of the bad program and Malwarebytes sorted that, a couple of hours changing all my passwords, and increased vigilance over my credit cards, just in case. All with the spectre of Mr. Rankin tutting over my shoulder.
Oh yeah, nearly forgot; DON'T SHOUT AT BOB!


Posted by:

Michael Hamilton
21 Jul 2021

Data mining and "targeted" ads aren't new but current technology makes everything faster, if not necessarily better. During the years it was owned by the Tandy Corp., you couldn't get out of a RadioShack without giving them a mailing address. I don't play golf at all, but after buying a golf-related gift for my brother, I was inundated for years by ads for golf paraphernalia. I have medical conditions that attract zillions of snake oil sales pitches. That's not relevant, its just aggravating. I go to great lengths to avoid being tracked by Google or anyone else, mostly to avoid that kind of thing. The algorithms seem to be wrong more often than not at predicting what I might actually buy.


Posted by:

Sborau
23 Jul 2021

Seems rather superficial to think that Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, your smart tv, etc. are just scraping your data so they can more easily target relevant ads at you. First off, ads are way more effective than you probably believe -- they are targeting your emotions so you are not going to outsmart the advertiser with your rational mind. More than that, a massive amount of data about you is being accumulated, which will eventually get to the point of them knowing you better than you know yourself. Good luck stopping the impact of advertising then.
They don't need to collect personally-identifying information. They know it's you because it's your phone/computer and they know your behaviour. More than that -- they don't care about you. You're just a number, part of this or that demographic.


Posted by:

Henry
21 Nov 2021

Disclaimer: I am a conservative! Trees, slow down..Cancel culture is wrong no matter what side uses it! The article was relevant and informative. That said it is clear Google has entered into nefarious stages of censorship. Ask your self why Bob's article was generic?...because if Bob bashed Google they in turn would bury Bob into oblivion, in fact it is the only way to truly have all Google data erased....just publicly bash them as a web site/utuber/ or on any other form of internet media they control or can make you vanish via the algos of the search engine...Bob knows...we all know.....


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