If your personal information is important to you, then controlling the information Google keeps on you should be something you learn how to do.
When you are signed into your Google account (and most of us are, most of the time) everything you do online becomes part of your Google profile. They can even track some things when you are not logged in.
The amount of personal data they have on us is staggering and is why controlling the information Google keeps on you is so important.
- every search you perform,
- every YouTube video you watch,
- what you have purchased online and how much for,
- where you have travelled and how many and how long the stops were on the way – and this, even with Google maps inactive on your phone!
Although Google has made efforts to increase transparency, they have been caught sharing private data with third parties who use it for advertising purposes.
Google Home and Nest products place microphones and cameras right in your home. Despite reassurances, no one can be sure exactly what they are recording.
Ultimately the only way to truly protect yourself from data scraping is to go offline altogether which is of course, impossible for most of us. Nonetheless you can assert some level of control over the information they gather.
In response to the data leaks and privacy violations perpetrated by large tech companies (which have proven very bad for their public image); Google has created a privacy hub that gives you some visibility and control over the data collected on you.
If you have a Google account (a Gmail address is the most common path the getting one) then they have your name, gender, email addresses, date of birth, phone number and password. Some of this is listed as public information.
Here’s how to see what Google makes public about you:
- Open a browser window and navigate to your Google Account.
- Type your Google username
- Choose personal info from the menu bar. You can change, un-share (make private) or in some cases delete information such as your photo, name, birthday, gender, other emails and phone number.
- To see what information is available publicly, scroll to the bottom and select Go to About me.
You can then back out and make any changes you like. At time of writing you cannot make your account completely private.
Want to see the data Google has amassed on you to date?
- Sign into your Google Account and select Data & Personalisation from the navigation bar.
- Scroll to Activity controls and tap Web & App Activity. This will show you a list of all your activity logged by Google.
- If you are appropriately shocked, you can stop Google tracking your browser history, web searches, map searches and directions as well as a history of your interactions with Google Assistant by unchecking both boxes. Tracking does have benefits so you may wish to control it rather than blocking it altogether.
- Clicking Manage Activity brings up a page that displays all the information Google has collected on you all the way back to the day you created your account.
- You can set Google to automatically delete this data either immediately or every three or every eighteen months. Select Choose to delete automatically and pick the time frame you prefer. Google will instantly delete any stored data older than the time frame you specify and from then on automatically delete data that reaches that age.
- If you prefer to delete some or all of your activity history manually, got to the navigation bar and choose Delete activity by and choose either Last hour, Last day, All time or Custom range.
- Once you choose an auto delete setting or manually select which data you want deleted, a pop-up will appear and ask you to confirm. Select Delete or Confirm.
To make sure your new settings have been applied go back to Manage Activity and make sure whatever’s there is within the time frame you selected (zero, three or eighteen months). Unless you are big on privacy a three-month setting is a good compromise as it allows for personalisation of your results like search and maps without storing the data forever.
Be aware that setting Google not to track your activity does not mean that they are not doing it. Google has admitted that they can track your location by using Wi-Fi and cellular signals even with location services turned off. They have also admitted to scanning your emails to determine what you have purchased – even though they previously declared they were not doing so. Welcome to the 21st Century!
At least now you have the tools and the knowledge for controlling the information Google keeps on you.
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