You are not as anonymous as you might have thought: Google knows it all
As a company with one of the biggest and most popular services in the world, Google has a huge database of user information that most users can’t even recall themselves. If you are a privacy buff, then Google data collection should be a concern.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Google does not hide the fact that they collect data. The tech giant gives users the ability to see, limit, delete, or download this information. If you find yourself asking “what does Google know about me”, read on.
One of the best inventions in the array of Google services is Google maps. In this day and age, everybody uses Google maps at some point. If you have your location tracking enabled on your phone, Google logs everywhere you have ever been and keeps that information. The data goes all the way to the very first day you started using the service.
The risk of this is that if anyone got access to your account, they could trace your movements over the years with uncanny accuracy. Luckily, you can view that in your maps’ timeline and decide whether you still want that information on Google’s servers or whether you would rather delete or limit how much data on your location is stored.
For all devices:
- access your Google accounts’ activity controls;
- turn off location history and confirm changes (this changes settings for all devices affiliated with that particular account).
To delete your location history:
- go to location history and select whether to delete by date, individual location, or your entire history.
Everything you search for on Google is recorded and stored. Whether you use a tablet, a PC or a phone, if you are logged into any of your Google accounts, that information is saved. Contrary to popular belief, deleting your browser history is nowhere near hiding all the places you have been on the internet. That information still lurks in the shadows, until you delete your entire search history.
To view and/or delete entire history:
- go to your Google accounts’ activity page;
- click on the ‘Delete activity by’ tab;
- choose a time period (All Time and All Products to erase your entire history);
- then click ‘Delete’.
To delete by topic or product:
- go to your Google accounts’ activity page;
- in the ‘Search’ bar search for topics or products;
- then select ‘Delete results’ from the more options menu, to delete all matching activity.
And here we are. Location and search history wasn’t enough for them. If you’re in shock wondering “so how much does Google know about me??”, we have a little cherry on top. Google also keeps a record of your YouTube searches and the videos you watch. While it might seem harmless given that YouTube videos follow strict community guidelines, as an internet user, you really don’t want any information on you stored. Have you ever wondered how you start getting ads after viewing certain videos?
Because of the logged YouTube activity, Google knows your religion, whether you are depressed, suicidal, or even if you have a baby on the way.
To delete YouTube Watch or Search history:
- visit your YouTube feed history;
- on the right menu bar click on ‘Watch history’;
- choose ‘Clear all watch history’ (the same applies to Search history).
According to our recent report on Gmail privacy issues, although Google no longer keeps track of user’s Gmail accounts, a move meant to solve Gmail privacy issues, the tech giant seems to have given third party developer’s free reign in user accounts. These developer’s use their apps to scan through the inboxes of users when they sign up to email-based services, sometimes even allowing their employees to read personal messages.
To limit access to your Gmail account:
- visit Google Accounts Settings;
- from the available list of authorized apps, remove access for each individual app as you deem fit.
As it turns out, Google even records and keeps voice commands. Once you tap the microphone icon on your phone, any subsequent utterances are consequently recorded. Ostensibly, this is to allow you to access voice search, and to help the company improve their voice recognition software.
To listen to the recordings and erase them:
- go to Google’s activity controls;
- scroll down to ‘Voice & Audio Activity’;
- choose ‘Pause’.
How to download my Google data
Google allows individuals to access all the information they have by downloading a copy of it. Note that downloading your data does not delete it from Google’s servers:
- go to Download your data page;
- choose which Google products to include in your download;
- select ‘Next’;
- choose your archive’s ‘File type’;
- choose how your archive is delivered;
- click ‘Create archive’.
When your archive is ready, Google will email you a link to its location. Depending on the amount of information in your account, this process could take a few minutes or several hours. Most people get the link to their archive the same day that they requested it.
How Google uses collected data
The long and short of it is that the use of Google alone can potentially pose a risk to your privacy online. The only way to limit the extent of information collected is by controlling what is stored, and by reading the privacy policies of any apps before accepting them and hitting the next button.