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.

Location history

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:

does google maps use data

To delete your location history:

  • go to location history and select whether to delete by date, individual location, or your entire history.

Therefore, while the answer “to what does Google know about me” sounds pretty creepy, it’s good that you can still delete all the collected data about yourself.

Persistent location tracking — Is it really off?

At first sight, it might seem like Google is all transparent about the Location History toggle. You may even believe that it’s as simple as turning it off (paused). After all, here’s what Google says about it, “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

So, here’s the shocker: a report from August (2018) shows that Google apps still record your location markers with Location History off.

Now, that’s a bummer when you think that you’ve already turned it off and don’t have the big brother breathing down your neck. We do understand that this may not be such a big deal for most people unless they have committed homicide. Nevertheless, if you have the power to say no to location history recording, it’s rather misleading that Google still retains your data.

The report mentioned above claims that Google Maps takes a snapshot of your current location whenever you open it. This is regardless of your desire not to save your location data. The same way, whenever your app checks for automatic weather updates, your whereabouts get recorded.

How about searching the web for keywords that would trigger location detection? Let’s say, you want to find the “nearest pizza hut.” But even when you search for something that has nothing to do with your location, Google can detect your physical location. This detection can retrieve your exact latitude and longitude, which then gets saved to your Google account.

How to turn off location history effectively

You may wonder now what the solution can be. “There has to be a way to stay under the radar, right?” you think to yourself. And, you are right.

So, here’s what you should do on your PC. First off, access your Google Account. Now, in the Personal info & privacy section, select My Activity. In the left panel, choose Activity controls. Make sure you turn off Web & App Activity and Location History.

turn off location history

For Android devices, open your Google Account and go to Data & personalization. Now, tap the Web & App Activity toggle to turn it off.

Hopefully, there are no other tricks up Google’s sleeve to ignore your desire to switch off your location history. You must have your own good reason for doing so. This has to be respected without a doubt.

Search activity

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’.

deleting google data collection

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 youtube user activity menu, to delete all matching activity.

youtube google data

YouTube activity

And here we are. Location and search history wasn’t enough for them. If you’re in shock wondering “what does Google know about me that wasn’t already mentioned”, 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).

youtube search history

 

Gmail activity

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.

Gmail Activity that Google know

Voice

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:

does google voice use data

 

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:

download my Google data

  • select ‘Next’;
  • choose your archive’s ‘File type’;
  • choose how your archive is delivered;
  • click ‘Create archive’.

how much does google know about me

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

A huge part of Google’s business relies on the ads they show. According to their privacy policy (where you will also find the extent of all the information Google collects), the data collected about you is used to show you personalized ads on both Google, mobile applications, and on websites that partner with Google.  To opt out you can turn ad personalization off here.

Google data collection

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.