Nathan Tay­lor ex­plains how to stop the search en­gine from track­ing your on­line ac­tiv­ity.

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Nathan Tay­lor’s guide on how to stop the search en­gine from track­ing your on­line ac­tiv­ity.

Un­less you’ve been ex­tra care­ful, it’s fair to say that Google knows you just about as well as you know your­self. The in­ter­net gi­ant hoovers up vast amounts of in­for­ma­tion on mil­lions of users, os­ten­si­bly to de­liver bet­ter ads (or, more ac­cu­rately, to sell that user in­for­ma­tion to ad­ver­tis­ers in or­der to bet­ter tar­get ads).

This is es­pe­cially true if you have a Google ac­count. When you’re logged into your Google ac­count, Google will keep a per­ma­nent record of: Ev­ery search term you type into Google Ev­ery search re­sult you click on Ev­ery YouTube search you per­form and ev­ery video you watch Ads you click on A com­plete time­line of your move­ments by track­ing your mo­bile’s GPS Ev­ery time you is­sue an ‘OK Google’ voice com­mand Po­ten­tially any time you visit a page with em­bed­ded Google ser­vices (like maps) and your com­plete Chrome browser his­tory (thank­fully this last one is turned off by de­fault).

This in­for­ma­tion is recorded and at­tached to your per­sonal Google ac­count per­ma­nently. But even if you don’t have a Google ac­count or are not logged in, it will still gather in­for­ma­tion.

It records the IP ad­dresses of peo­ple search­ing with Google and what they searched for. This data is kept for a pe­riod of time be­fore be­ing “anonymised” by delet­ing part of the IP ad­dress.

Its Dou­bleClick, AdSense and AdMob ad net­works use track­ing cook­ies and sim­i­lar tech­niques to mon­i­tor app us­age and move­ment be­tween sites, too.

To its credit, Google does now give you tools to switch a good deal of that ac­count track­ing off — and that’s more than can be said for some of its com­peti­tors, such as Mi­crosoft and Face­book. We’ll walk you through that process be­low, as well as give some ex­tra tips for dodg­ing Google’s track­ing.


Google, thank­fully, gives you the tools to delete your ac­count records per­ma­nently, as well as turn off fu­ture track­ing. You just have to know where to find the set­tings. Head to my­ac­tiv­ and log in. It’s here that you’ll see the ev­ery bit of data Google has as­so­ci­ated with your ac­count, plus you can delete your records and stop fur­ther track­ing.

The first thing you want to do is delete the archives. This will re­move ev­ery item

from Google’s record about your ac­tiv­ity. Now, we need to say up front that we pretty much have to take it on faith that Google is ac­tu­ally delet­ing th­ese records. The com­pany has said that it does, although it notes that, in some cases, the records may still be stored on (off­line) backup tapes and in archives.

Click on ‘Delete ac­tiv­ity by’ on the left side of the page. Then un­der ‘Delete by date’, select ‘All time’ from the drop­down menu and click Delete. This will clear the records of your on­line ac­tiv­ity up un­til now. You’ll be asked to con­firm your choice.

Now it’s time to stop Google from gather­ing data in the fu­ture. Go back to the My Ac­tiv­ity page, then click on Ac­tiv­ity Con­trols on the left. This is where you can switch off all the log­ging that Google does.

Here, you will see a set of pan­els for dif­fer­ent types of ac­tiv­ity that Google records. There are pan­els for ‘Web & App Ac­tiv­ity’, ‘Lo­ca­tion His­tory’, ‘De­vice In­for­ma­tion’, ‘Voice & Au­dio Ac­tiv­ity’, ‘YouTube Search His­tory’ and ‘YouTube Watch His­tory’. In each panel, there is a blue switch. With the ex­cep­tion of Lo­ca­tion His­tory (see the box at left for more on why), you’ll want to turn them all off, which Google calls “paused”. You’ll get a warn­ing pop-up for each one.

The other ex­cep­tion you might make is watched YouTube videos. That’s ac­tu­ally use­ful, since it de­ter­mines YouTube rec­om­men­da­tions. Once you’ve done that, Google should stop record­ing your ac­tiv­ity in your Google ac­count. It does not stop IP log­ging of searches (we’ll get to that), and it will still keep some search in­for­ma­tion in cook­ies for the du­ra­tion of a ses­sion, but your per­ma­nent ac­count ac­tiv­ity record will re­main clean.


Now to stop the track­ing that Google does re­gard­less of your ac­count set­tings or lo­gin sta­tus. First up, let’s stop those cook­ies and an­a­lyt­ics.

The best way to do that is with a pri­vacy add-on for your browser. There are a num­ber that get the job done, but we’ve al­ways liked Dis­con­nect ( dis­con­ An­other solid so­lu­tion is Ghostery ( In­stalling th­ese browser add-ons will block all track­ing cook­ies from be­ing sent by your browser. They also stop an­a­lyt­ics and other track­ing sys­tems, like Face­book and Google wid­gets, from re­port­ing your ac­tiv­ity back to the moth­er­ship.

If you re­ally want to kill ad track­ing, you can also in­stall uBlock Ori­gin (, which we now pre­fer to Ad­block Plus) which will stop your browser from com­mu­ni­cat­ing with ad ser­vices like Dou­bleClick al­to­gether.


Fi­nally, to deal with the fact that Google still links on­line searches with IP ad­dresses, you can use a third-party search en­gine. If you still want Google’s search re­sults, we rec­om­mend start­ Start­Page still gives you Google Search re­sults. Ex­cept that it fetches those re­sults for you like a proxy, so that you don’t give Google your IP ad­dress. Start­Page it­self claims that it logs no IP ad­dresses or search terms — but again, we take that on faith.

With all Google ac­count track­ing turned off, with ad cook­ies and an­a­lyt­ics dis­abled, with Google wid­gets blocked and by us­ing a third-party search en­gine, you should now be mostly clear of the Google oc­to­pus.

Google does let you get a view of ev­ery­thing it has recorded about you.

Turn ’em all off. Ex­cept for watched videos. That one’s use­ful.

Delete ev­ery­thing, for all time. It’s the only way to be sure.

Dis­con­nect blocks track­ing cook­ies.

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