While a lot of us have growing privacy concerns, it may seem like a lot of the big companies are out to get us. But if you’ve been reading some of my articles on privacy, we actually have a surprising amount of control over our privacy. I’ve already discussed aspects about Facebook, but today I want to focus on another giant: Google.
Despite Google taking personal information and present a ton of relevant ads to us, Google is pretty upfront about their practices. They explain clearly what they collect and how they use that data and even present options to opt out of those if we like. This is pretty refreshing compared to Facebook where it can be difficult to find what data they collect and how to block certain things.
The catch to all this is the fact that you still have to jump through some hoops in order to turn them off. Google’s default settings are normally extracting the most data they can from you. If you want complete control over how much data you’re sending to Google, here is a guide to help with that. This guide will cover some of the key data collection services and will tell you how you can opt out.
Web And App Activity
It’s a vaguely named section for sure but it collects a smorgasbord of personal data. Basically any actions you’ve made on any of Google Apps – including third-party apps where you logged in with Google – along with search history and pages visited through Chrome. In other words that’s a huge amount of data! To see the full details, click the link here.
Now if the amount of data there has scared you, turning off the data collection is actually pretty easy. It’s a matter of flipping the switch you find on this page of Google’s Activity Controls. This stops the collection of data entirely and won’t restart until you flip that switch again. You can also set your data on a timer through this page and selecting “Choose to delete automatically”. Google will then delete the data automatically in a 3 or 18-month cycle.
And while that may be great to lock Google out completely, do remember Google is using this data for you. As a result, if you decide to limit or opt out entirely of this data collection, you’ll lose services from Google.
Specifically, you won’t be able to revisit past searches quickly or access any previous pages you visited. Blocking this data collection will also block you out of auto-completing searches in any of Google apps as well.
Whether you know it or not, Google actually keeps a log of every physical move you make. It does this via your smartphone or Android. It tracks this mainly through the Google app for iOS and via the system itself for Android. It also tracks and maintains records of your most visited places over time. To see that data, you can view your Maps Timeline here.
Disabling this feature is just as easy as blocking web and app activity. In Google’s Activity Controls, go to this page. As of right now, your only option is to opt out entirely from this data collection. This can be done only on devices that are linked to that particular Google account. Google will be rolling out a similar option I mentioned above where you can delete data in cycles soon.
With this in mind, it’s important to look at the risks of turning that data collection off. If you do, Google won’t be following you, but you also won’t be getting personalized recommendations for places you might want to check out. Furthermore if you drive a lot, Google won’t be able to send you alerts or notifications that you’re getting into heavier traffic since it won’t be able to log your usual routes.
Voice And Audio Activity
Whenever you talk to Google Home or any Smart Display Device, smartphone or Chromebook, that data is stored. Even the data you use on the regular search bar via voice is stored and kept “forever”. To see the transcriptions, check it out here.
Similarly, turning off voice and audio activity can be done through a page in Google’s Activity Controls site. For this data, go to this page. Your only option for this is opting out or in.
But what exactly are you losing should you disable this? Not as much as you’d think. For one you won’t be able to say “Hey Google” or “Okay Google” on smartphones – but you still can on Home and other Smart Display devices. The only other downside to this is by disabling this, you’ll limit the devices ability to learn how you annunciate certain words, thus improving its speech recognition.
YouTube Watch and Search History
Every single video you watched or searched on Youtube since you first made your account is collected and stored. But the data is actually stored in two separate places. For video streams, you can view them through the Google’s My Activity site here. For YouTube searches, they’re stored here.
Much like the data storage, the YouTube watch history and search history disabling pages are stored in separate pages. To toggle on or off YouTube watch history, go to this page of your Google’s Activity Controls. For search history, go here.
Should you disable both, Google will no longer be able to provide video recommendations, search suggestions nor provide you with an easy list of videos you watched previously. By turning this off, YouTube will basically be a blank slate for you every time you go to the page.
Ad Personalization Profile
This isn’t common knowledge, however Google compiles all of the data it has on you and creates a profile of you. This profile explains who you are, where you go, what subjects you’re interested in and more (but never personally identifying information). This profile is then shared to advertisers who use this knowledge to deliver ads that are – in theory – relevant to your interests. To view what profile they’ve made of you, you can check it out through their Ad Settings site here.
Conveniently to turn it off, go back to the page I linked above and there’s an option to disable the collection of that data entirely. You can also disable particular things as well if you find they are inaccurate. Chances are it is a little bit off. All you have to do to toggle that off is to go to that particular section and toggle it off.
By disabling particular parts of that profile, you’ll no longer see ads pertaining to that area. If you disable the entire collection, you’ll still be exposed to ads from Google services. The only difference is the ads will be generic and not focused on what you’ve searched, visited, or have gone to.
Whenever you follow or review a business through Google or any app, Google may use either your name, photo, comments or any combination to create an ad that’ll promote that associated business or its goods or services. Worst thing about this is there’s not a simple way to see when, what, or how Google has used this data.
The upside to this is if you don’t want to be in an ad at any capacity the process is simple. Uncheck the box you find at the bottom of the page here. The only thing you lose from this is honestly very little. Your face, name and words will never be used as a random company’s self promotion material ever again.
Third-Party App Connections
Finally is the third-party data. This data is collected whenever you authorize an app, add-on or extension that asks access to your Google account. The type of data that’s collected is directly mentioned on a page before you give authorization to that third-party app. Whatever it says there, that’s what it’s collecting. You can also view all of the data that’s collected on this page. You have a general overview with an option to see more details by clicking on the specific block.
To disable the collection of data, go back to the third-party apps page and disable the apps you want. There isn’t a toggle everything off option. By removing access, you’ll be removing your access to that specific app entirely. So if there is a particular app that you need for work or that you trust, leave it alone. However if it’s something you don’t plan on using or no longer need it, remove it.
Revisit These Privacy Settings
While Google isn’t going to be changing much of their data collection practices, I’m confident they’ll continue to make privacy options more readily available. All you need to do is do some digging.