Take back control of the personal data Google holds about you with these simple online safety tips.
Google tracks your activities both online and offline through a variety of apps. And this is not surprising. But you can take back control of your personal data, at least to a small extent. Want to prevent a company from tracking your activities? In fact, this is almost impossible: the “advertising giant" collects data about you when you search for something on the Internet; when you visit certain websites; when you use your android phone. However, there are several ways in which we can protect our personal information.
What does Google know about your activity?
There are two ways to get a copy of all the data Google collects about you: Takeout and Dashboard. Takeout was designed to let users take their data from Google and move it somewhere else, from photos and contacts to Android settings, Chrome bookmarks, Google Fit activity data, and even your cloud activity history. It can take a few days for the Takeout archive to be created: at the end, Google will send you a link to download it.
Dashboard offers a snapshot of the data Google collects about you when you use the company’s services. This includes the number of messages sent and received via Gmail email, the number of files on disk, and the number of photos Google holds for you. Key information is so-called "user activity data", such as your location, search queries or browsing history. If you want to scare someone, show him a graph of his daily movement around the city, because Google Maps keeps track of where you go and when you do it.
Another source of Google data is your profile represented by your personal Google account. Go to the " Personal Information " section: on this page you can see what information Google collects about you, here you can also change your profile photo and your date of birth. You can delete this data or enter false information, but remember what exactly you changed, as you will need this information to reset your password in the future.
What Google Thinks It Knows About You
Google uses the collected data to create an advertising profile, earning money through the display of ads. Google ‘s parent company Alphabet released a $32.6 billion ad revenue report last quarter. This money was received by Google without directly selling your data, the company only allowed other firms to personalize their advertising. That’s why the pair of sneakers you’re dreaming of continues to haunt you in the form of advertisements all over the Internet. Such behavioral advertising is complex. Google notes that if you search maps for " football fields near me " or watch " highlights on YouTube ," it will let the company know you’re a football fan.
Interestingly, you can figure out for yourself who Google thinks you are by going to your ad settings. There, Google creates a picture of who it thinks you are: your age and gender, what topics you are interested in (from air travel to world news), and what companies you might like.
Taking a look at reports from Takeout and Dashboard and researching your personal and advertising profile will give you a good idea of what data Google is collecting about you. If you think you’re missing something, you can submit a data access request, which is a right under EU law, so that a person can find out what data any organization holds about them.
How to change your Google account settings
Now that you have an idea of the scale of the data being collected, it’s time to do something to change that. Google’s default settings allow the company to collect a lot of data. However, Google makes it possible to review all the settings options on the " Data & Personalization " page.
There are settings for user activity, editing profile information and personalized advertising conditions. If you have a Google account, grab a cup of tea (or something stronger) and spend half an hour exploring each element of the settings.
App and Google search activity
" Web & App activity " collects data about your searches and usage of Google applications such as Chrome, as well as applications that use company services such as Maps. If you disable this feature, you won’t see your latest searches and you won’t get personalized results. However, disabling this feature does not prevent Google from knowing which sites you visit.
If you talk to your phone or another Google device, for example by clicking the microphone icon in Chrome or by saying "Ok Google", the recording is saved. Google says it uses this data to improve speech recognition, including better understanding of your specific voice. Each audio track is accompanied by details about when the recording was made and through which application it happened, such as Chrome or the Android Google App. You can even play these recordings. They can be removed all together or one at a time. Saving such audio can be disabled in the account settings in the "My activity" section.
Google also understands that people sometimes want to delete their voice query history with their own voice. There are commands like " Google, delete the last thing I said " and " Google, delete everything I said last week ". The commands will work as soon as they are first spoken. However, if you ask to delete more than a week of voice data, you will be prompted to do so online and a page will appear on your phone.
With location history, the company keeps track of where you are, even if you don’t use Google Maps. Google asks any device you use where you are and stores that data. Navigate to your timeline to see its scale: if you’re on Android, Google knows where you’ve been at any given time for years. The personalized features it offers aren’t that impressive: you can turn off location history. You’ll still be able to use the maps, but won’t get recommendations based on the places you’ve visited. Disable tracking in activity controls and delete existing data in the timeline. Even if you turn off location history tracking, Google will still know where you are, because other apps can get this information. To completely stop tracking you, you will need to turn off the recording of your activity on the Internet and other applications.
In addition to the above, you can also turn off your browsing history and YouTube searches, which Google uses to show you recommendations. It is also worth changing the privacy settings for photos stored on Google. For example, turn off face recognition and delete photo location data.
If you don’t want personalized ads, you can turn them off in your ad settings under "Options" and prevent Google from tracking your web activity and collecting any other information from its services. You will still see ads, but they will no longer be personalized. For example, if you previously requested that specific ads not be shown to you, they may reappear before your eyes. Google will also collect information such as the topic of the page you are visiting, the time of day, and your location, but this data will not be associated with your browsing history or what you have searched for on YouTube.
Demographic information such as age and gender cannot be deleted but can be updated ; if you’re trying to avoid being tracked by Google, there’s nothing wrong with giving false information. However, Google may well figure out your deception and switch you back to a 35-44-year-old woman, even if you try to indicate in your personal information that you were actually born a man in 1927.
If you want Google to stop collecting data about you and using browsing-related personal information to analyze your interests, turn off the collection of user activity on the web and apps and the ad personalization itself.
You can also block specific advertisers in your ad settings. Click on a business name and Google will show you why it thinks you’re interested in that product or service. You may have visited the advertiser’s website or installed their app. Google allows the user to click on a special button to disable these particular ads. This does not mean that you will never see ads from this company, but they will no longer be based on your personalized data.
Other ways to protect your data
The best way to limit Google’s data collection is to delete your account, but you don’t have to go that far. Can’t live without Gmail or Google Maps? You can limit data collection by switching to other products or by using only the services you need. For example, download and install the Firefox or Brave browser instead of Chrome, use the DuckDuckGo search, not Google. If you can afford, then swap your Android for an iPhone.
You can delete your account entirely, but even then, Google is able to continue to track you with what one report called "passive data ". Although Google claims that the company does not link your name or other personal information to a profile.
As with tracking any online activity, ad blockers like AdBlock Plus and privacy extensions like Disconnect or Privacy Badger will help block existing tracking systems. Surveillance can be done through cookies or social trackers. On Android, the Firefox Focus browser helps you stay private, while Brave is a great option for protecting your data when you’re browsing the web from your computer.