Here’s What Google Knows About You (and how you can delete it)
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.
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
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…
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 16 Jul 2021
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Here’s What Google Knows About You (and how you can delete it) (Posted: 16 Jul 2021)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved