Google knows more about you than you think and you’re not aware of it. It knows what you search for, your interests (which it then gives to advertisers), what places you visit in the real world…
Think I’m exaggerating? Let’s make a bet: check out these seven links, which will help you find out what Google is keeping on you. If your mind isn’t blown or you decide not to remove at least some of your info, then I’ll tip my invisible hat to you.
Warning 1: to visit all these links, you should be logged into your Google account.
Warning 2: this article was originally published on May 17, 2016. I updated it on March 24, 2017 when I realized some services had changed. Therefore, some instructions had become obsolete.
1. This is the first info you MUST remove
Google stores every search you ever make. All of them. Not one is left out. The page where your activity is reported in Google is called “My Activity.” It’s a very, very hidden section. Here you’ve got the link.
As you can see, this page reports all the content you’ve visited thanks to Google. You’ve got three options for deleting what you don’t care about. The first option is using the search. This is perfect if you’re worried that Google knows you’ve visited a certain page.
The second option is the most obvious one. If you only want to delete searches from one day, it’s as easy as going to “Today” and then “Delete” (it will appear above).
When you click “Delete,” a warning will appear, something like “No, don’t do it! You don’t want to delete this information.” In reality, it’s exactly the opposite: Google doesn’t want you to delete this information. Nothing will happen to you. You’re not going to crash the internet, nor will your Google account be deleted.
Want to delete alllll your searches since the beginning of time? Then you’ll want the third option. Click on “Delete by topic or product” on the list on the left. Click on “Delete by date” and select “All time.” If you’re sure about this option, click on “Delete.”
But there’s still another type of search remaining: Youtube.
2. Delete all your Youtube activity
Google also keeps a record of all your Youtube searches. Here’s the link to access it. The option to delete your search history stands out.
Finally, don’t forget to visit this link to delete the record of all videos you’ve watched on Youtube.
3. How to delete everything advertisers have on you
Did you know you can control the ads that appear when you use Google or its products? Again, the link is super hidden: click here to access the control panel for Google ads.
As you can see, Google knows that I like manga and anime, video games and classical music… though I don’t know where my supposed interest in moving comes from.
If you want Google to stop sending your info to advertisers, simply disable the option “Ads Personalization” to “No.”
Again, Google will notify you that you don’t want to do this because then you’ll stop seeing ads related to your interests. Don’t listen: you know what you want, not Google or even me. Make the decision that best suits you.
4. Google knows where you’ve been
If you use an Android device, Google keeps a record of the places you’ve visited with your device through a feature called Routes. You can access it at this link.
If you want to delete the places you’ve been to, it’s as easy as clicking on the trash icon. Again, a warning will appear asking whether you’re sure of your decision or not.
5. These apps are monitoring you
The Activity page on Google also offers a list of all the apps that access all or some of your data. Want to know who is “monitoring” you, to what extent and how to adjust what they know about you? Here you’ve got the link.
6. Want to find out everything Google keeps on you?
This exercise will teach you to be aware of all private info that you’re giving Google without realizing it. At this link, Google lets you explore all data you’ve uploaded to their services: favorites, emails, contacts, Google Drive files…
First you’ll select the service you want to include in this massive data export:
And then the type of file output.
I haven’t tried this feature myself but the Business Insider website did an experiment and one of their editors discovered that, for example, Google saved a photo taken of his puppy in 2013:
This info isn’t available to just anybody, so turn off your paranoia (though it’s normal to feel uneasy, I felt the same way). This tool is good for recovering everything Google and its products are keeping on you and, as I’ve said before, for helping you become more aware.
7. Create your monthly privacy report
You can set up your Google account so that every month you get an email report about all the info that you’re storing on its services. For example, how many contacts are saved on your Gmail or how many videos you’ve uploaded to Youtube. Go to this link.
You only have to enable the first and only option that appears above the list and Google will send you a reminder every month. You’ll know everything you’re storing on Google and act accordingly.
Extra: Link cheat sheet
Since I’ve offered several useful links, here’s the list so you never forget to visit them from time to time.
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