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How to find what Google knows about me and get back my privacy?

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As one of the biggest and most popular tech companies on the planet, Google has an enormous database of user data that most of its users can’t even recall themselves. Even if you are not a privacy buff, Google’s data collection should be a concern for you as well. But how to see what Google knows about you?

Luckily, Google doesn’t hide the fact that they collect your data across multiple services, ranging from Search to Waze. The company allows its users to see, limit, download, or delete this information. That being said, you won't be able to stop Google collecting your data completely unless you cease using all of its services.

What Google Knows About You | 6 Things video screenshot

Here’s a list of what Google knows about you and how to delete it all:

  1. Location history
  2. Search activity
  3. YouTube activity
  4. Gmail activity
  5. Voice data
  6. Analytics data

1. Location history

Google Maps is one of the best Google services. Pretty much everybody uses it at some point in this day and age. If you’ve enabled location tracking on your phone, Google logs where you’ve been and keeps that information, for good. This data goes all the way to the very first day you started using Google Maps.

Why it could be dangerous

The risk of this is that if anyone got access to your account, that person could trace your movements over time with incredible accuracy. He may try to visit you at home or at work or he may visit your home while you're on a holiday. The possibilities are endless.

How to turn off location history

Luckily, you can see that in your Maps timeline and decide whether you want that data on Google’s servers or whether you’d rather delete or perhaps limit how much information about your location is stored.

Turn off Google Location History

Turn off location history:

  1. Access Activity Controls on your Google Account
  2. Turn off Location History
  3. Confirm changes. This changes the settings for all of your devices affiliated with that particular account

While the amount of location data Google has looks pretty creepy, it’s good that you can still delete all the location information Google has collected about you. For example, in 2017, I told my wife I was going on a business trip to Berlin while I actually went to meet my acquaintance in Gran Canaria. I barely remember the details, but Google has everything with exact timestamps, starting with the flight and ending with a stay at some second-tier motel.

Google Maps shows flight from UK to Gran Canaria

Delete your location history:

  1. Go to Location History
  2. Click the cogwheel on the bottom right corner
  3. Choose Delete all Location History
  4. Tick the box besides I understand and want to delete all Location History
  5. Click DELETE LOCATION HISTORY

Chances are you're traveling a lot and using Google Maps to set your routes and find places in different countries. Deleting your history would mean you'll be starting over without any auto-suggestions and similar conveniences. In such a case, you can set Google to automatically delete your data older than three or eighteen months. This way, Google will still know your location but at least won't have the full captain's log.

Auto-delete Google Location History

Automatically delete your location history:

  1. Go to Location History
  2. Click the cogwheel on the bottom right corner
  3. Choose Automatically delete Location History
  4. Pick between 3 and 18 months
  5. Click Next
  6. Confirm your selection by clicking Confirm

Persistent location tracking – is it really off?

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

Here’s the shocker, though: a report from August, 2018, shows that even with Location History turned off, Google apps still record your location markers.

Now, that’s a bummer, especially 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 that big of a deal for most unless they’ve committed homicide. Nevertheless, if you have the power to say no to Location History recording, it’s pretty misleading that Google still retains that data.

The abovementioned report claims that Google Maps takes a snapshot of your current location whenever you open it. This is regardless of your preference not to save your location data. It means that whenever your app automatically checks for weather updates, your whereabouts get recorded.

How about searching the web for keywords that would trigger location detection? Let’s say you’re looking for the “nearest papa johns.” 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 straight to your Google account.

You may now wonder what the effective solution may be. “There has to be a way to stay under the radar, right?” you think to yourself. Turns out, you’re right.

How to REALLY turn off location history

If you're on desktop, here’s what you should do:

  1. Access your Google Account
  2. Now, under the Data and personalization section on the left, click My Activity
  3. Under Activity controls, click Manage activity controls
  4. Turn off Web & App Activity and Location History

If you’re on mobile:

  1. Open your Google Account
  2. Go to Data & Personalization
  3. Tap the Web & App Activity toggle to turn it off

Hopefully, there are no other tricks up Google’s sleeve to ignore your efforts to switch off your location history.

2. Search activity

Everything you search for on Google is recorded and stored. Whether you use a phone, a PC, or a tablet, if you’re logged into any of your Google accounts, that information is saved.

Contrary to popular belief, deleting your browser history doesn’t hide all the places you’ve been on the internet. That information is preserved until you delete your entire search history. Even then, the fact that you've searched for something remains noted.

If you think that all your data will be gone after you delete Google Account, think again. The company will continue storing some information about you "to meet specific business needs or legal requirements," or in other words, because they can.

Why it could be dangerous

This information includes all voice searches from your phone and Google Home, such as "how long before my wife comes back home?" It also includes the actual voice recording, which could be used against you in court.

Speaking of courts, there's one recent example when the authorities used search history against the culprit. Earlier in September, Julija Adlesic and her boyfriend were sentenced by the Slovenian court for attempted insurance fraud. It turned out that the boyfriend searched for artificial limbs before Adlesic amputated her hand with a circular saw, with the hope of getting over $1 million in payouts from five insurance companies.

Had he deleted his search activity, or better yet, used a reliable Virtual Private Network (VPN), chances are his three-year prison sentence would've been shorter. There might not even have been not enough evidence to prove that this wasn't an accident in the first place.

How to delete search history

As an avid dog lover, I was shocked to find that I watched a 10-minute cat compilation at work and even initiated some kind of cat-related search, all in 2020. After this, my only question is how to delete my entire Google history once and for all. Luckily, Sundar Pichai grants me (and you!) this power. Just like with location history, you can also set up an automatic deletion.

Delete your search history by topic or product:

  1. Go to My Google Activity page
  2. In the Search bar, search for topics or products
  3. If you scroll down long enough, you may encounter a message "Looks like you've reached the end." Don't worry, this is not about your life.
  4. To delete all matching activity, select Delete Results from the More Options YouTube user activity menu
Delete Google search history

Auto-delete your search history:

  • Go to My Google Activity page
  • On the left menu, click Delete activity by
  • Choose Set up automatic deletions
  • Pick between 3 and 18 months
  • Click Next
  • Confirm your selection by clicking Confirm

Delete your entire search history:

  1. Go to My Google Activity page
  2. On the left menu, click Delete activity by
  3. Choose a time period (All Time and All Products if you want to erase your entire history)
  4. Click Delete

Now I can sleep well, knowing that all those "best brothels in canary islands" search results have never existed in the first place.

3. YouTube activity

Some might still not know, but Google has owned YouTube since 2006. It keeps a record of all your YouTube searches and all the videos you watch. While it might at first seem harmless given that YouTube videos follow strict community guidelines, you really don’t want any data on you stored in some data center.

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, if you have a baby on the way, and sometimes even who is the father.

Why it could be dangerous

Because YouTube belongs to Google, searching and watching some embarrassing videos might result in you seeing a related ad on some website a few days later at work. Also, you might be showing your co-worker some inspiring multi-level marketing tricks on YouTube, but right after the video ends, you are offered to continue watching some racist podcast S02E11.

How to delete YouTube activity

While mobile apps have an easy option to go incognito, pausing your YouTube activity logging on desktop is a bit more complicated. If you want to do that from YouTube, you will have to switch the watch and search history off and on separately, increasing the risk of forgetting one or another.

YouTube history: clear or pause selected history type

That's why we recommend doing that from Google My Activity page.

Pause YouTube activity logging on desktop:

  1. Visit YouTube History on Google My Activity
  2. Click on Saving activity
  3. Select the sliding button beside YouTube History
  4. Confirm the selection by clicking Pause
  5. Alternatively, to pause search or watched video logging only, leave the appropriate box unticked

Just like with Location and Search activities, you can set up an automatic deletion for YouTube history.

Google My Activity - how to auto-delete YouTube History

Auto-delete YouTube History:

  1. Visit YouTube History on Google My Activity
  2. Click Autodelete (Off)
  3. Select your desired period – 3 months or 18 months
  4. Click Next and Confirm

However, the best thing is to delete both your watch and search history as soon as possible.

To delete YouTube Watch or Search history:

  1. Visit YouTube History on Google My Activity
  2. On the left menu bar, click on Delete activity by
  3. Click Delete

4. Gmail activity

Gmail is a popular mailing tool and most have at least one mailbox. And because you can use your domain instead of @gmail.com, businesses like it too. But what about its security and privacy? Unfortunately, there are quite a few concerns.

Why it could be dangerous

Although Google no longer keeps track of user Gmail accounts, which was a move meant to solve Gmail’s privacy issues, the company seems to have given third party developers free reign in user accounts. These developers use their apps to scan through the inboxes of users when they sign up for email-based services, sometimes even allowing their employees to read personal messages.

How to limit Gmail activity

Limit access to your Gmail account:

  1. Visit Google Accounts Settings
  2. From the available list of authorized apps, remove access for each individual app as you deem fit

You may also want to download your Gmail data and have a fresh start. This way, your decade-old love letters won't become a way for someone to sell you Tinder Premium.

Download your Gmail data:

  1. Go to Google Takeout
  2. Unless you want to download all that Google has about you right now, click Deselect all
  3. Scroll down and select Hangouts and Mail
  4. Click Next step
  5. Choose the delivery method from the drop-down
  6. Choose Frequency, File type & size, and click Create export
Google Takeout download Hangouts and Mail data

In the end, the wisest choice would be to switch from Gmail to a secure email provider. The process is less complicated than it may seem in the first place. Most secure emails will let you import contacts and even emails from Gmail. While it may take some time for your address to gain credibility and not end up in everyone's spam folder, the price of your privacy is worth the hassle.

5. Voice data: not okay, Google

As it turns out, Google even records and keeps your voice commands. Once you tap the microphone icon on your smartphone, any subsequent utterances are consequently recorded. The same applies to voice-controlled home appliances. Ostensibly, this is to allow you to access voice search, as well as to help Google improve its voice recognition software.

Why it could be dangerous

If your voice is stored on some server somewhere, there's a chance that someone can steal it. One method of doing so is by initiating a command hidden in a YouTube video. These so-called Dolphin attacks can initiate sending messages and load websites without you being aware.

Also, you may have your voice-commanded device connected to the internet. So if someone has a record of you saying "unlock the gate," they can effectively let themselves in at will. Finally, if malware is already on your device, it can capture your payment info if you decide to make an online purchase.

How to delete Voice data

Delete last recordings with your voice:

  1. Say "Hey Google, delete the last thing I said to you"
  2. To delete all records from last week, say "Hey Google, delete everything I said to you last week"
  3. To delete older records, you'll have to that online from a page that pops-up on your phone

You may also want to only delete specific voice commands, such as "OK Google, do you think I've gained weight?" There's a way to do that too.

Delete Google voice command

Listen to the recordings and erase them one-by-one:

  1. Go to Google’s activity controls
  2. Under Web & App activity, choose Manage Activity
  3. Under the search bar, click Filter by date and product
  4. Scroll down to Voice and Audio, tick the box, and click Apply
  5. Listen to a specific record by clicking Details
  6. Delete a specific record by clicking the three dots and selecting Delete

Most likely, you will want to simply delete all there is. Google allows that as well.

Google delete all voice recordings

Delete all voice recordings:

  1. Go to Google’s activity controls
  2. Under Web & App activity, choose Manage Activity
  3. Under the search bar, click Filter by date and product
  4. Scroll down to Voice and Audio, tick the box, and click Apply
  5. Click the three dots beside the search bar
  6. Choose Delete results
  7. Confirm by clicking Delete

6. Google Analytics opt-out browser add-on

This extension name lacks elegance, just like your browser most likely lacks this important add-on. Until now, you've been providing data about your browsing habits for free. Even though this data is anonymized, your session can still be singled-out and check for the pages you visit, and the time you spent on them.

To sum up, opting-out from Google Analytics is for the best. Luckily, Google has developed browser add-ons for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, and Internet Explorer 11 that block your activities from reaching the website. Installing this extension is a bit more complicated, but you will find detailed instructions on doing that.

Google Analytics Opt-out Browser Add-on

Install Google Analytics opt-out extension:

  1. Go to Google Analytics Opt-out Browser Add-on page
  2. Click the big blue button on the right
  3. Don't read Additional Terms of Service, just click Accept and install
  4. Save the file and follow the instructions

How to download my Google data

Google allows users to access all the information they have by downloading a copy of it. Note that downloading your data doesn’t delete it from Google’s servers:

  1. Go to Download Your Data page
  2. Choose which Google products to include in your download
  3. Select Next
  4. Choose your archive’s file type
  5. Choose how your archive is delivered
  6. Click Create archive

When your archive is ready, Google will send you an email with a link to its location. Depending on the amount of data in your account, this process could take minutes to 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, 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.

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 data collected is by controlling what’s stored, and by reading the privacy policies of any apps before accepting them and hitting the next button.

How to prevent Google from collecting your data

The only way to stop Google from collecting information about you is to stop using its products. And even that is not enough. Whenever you visit a website with Google Analytics, which means most websites, your actions are recorded. So if you really want to end your toxic relationship with Google, follow the instructions below.

  • Don't use Chrome. There are plenty of alternatives nowadays, starting with the well-known Firefox and moving to security-oriented browsers like Brave.
  • Don't use Google Search. We don't recommend Microsoft's Bing, but DuckDuckGo can be a nice substitution.
  • Switch from Google Maps to Maps.me or Here WeGo. And these are just a couple of available free options.
  • Ditch Google Drive. A popular choice is Dropbox but if you want more privacy, give Sync a try.
  • From Google Calendar to Lightning Calendar. This option is strikingly easy-to-use and integrates with Thunderbird well.
  • Google Docs and other office apps can be substituted with privacy-friendly CryptPad.
  • Say goodbye to Google Photos... well, maybe not yet. I don't have a good alternative for it, so for now, just don't upload your artsy nudes there.
  • Don't use Gmail. It's far from secure or private. Consider checking out these alternatives to Gmail.
  • Switch from Android to iPhone. This one is not cheap and not ideal either, but unless Windows Phone rises from the dead, this is your only option for now. That is unless you're ready to install LineageOS on your phone.
  • Opt-out from Google Analytics. See the instructions above.

Of course, it would be naive to think that getting away from Google is truly possible without hurting yourself. You may need to collaborate on a shared Google Sheet or check Google Search results. You may also find that other navigation apps give you worse routes when compared to Google Maps. So, in the end, it's up to you to decide how hardcore anti-Google you want to be.

And to those who say that they have nothing to hide, looking at your search history should be enough to see that some of that info should stay private. It doesn't have to be profane – health or financial information is something that most of us don't want in public. Furthermore, all those bits of data add up to the point where it becomes easy to identify you using your actions online. And when a need arises for you to stay private, you'll want this basic right available to you, just like free speech.

Comments
Snoop doggy cat
Snoop doggy cat
prefix 1 year ago
Yah Zuckerberg is a nazi. Definitely an enemy of freedom.
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