What does Google know about you?

Google holds a lot of data about its users, but you might be sur­prised just how much it knows, writes MATT EGAN

Android Advisor - - Contents -

In or­der for the search gi­ant to iden­tify you, you have to have a Google ac­count. Without one Google may well have anony­mous data about you as a cookie on a phone or com­puter, but it is im­pos­si­ble to know what data that is (just as it is im­pos­si­ble for Google to know who you ac­tu­ally are). So all of the in­for­ma­tion be­low re­lies on you be­ing logged in to your Google

Ac­count, which I’m sure you have. Ever logged in to an An­droid phone or tablet, used Gmail, or used YouTube as a reg­is­tered user?

The email and pass­word you use for those things (or Google Cal­en­dar, Docs, Drive, and so on) is your Google Ac­count. You may – as I do – have sev­eral. In which case you will need to re­peat all of what fol­lows for each ac­count. Amuse your­self by spot­ting the dif­fer­ences be­tween each ac­count.

First, let’s check the ba­sics.

How well does Google know me?

Google used to be only a search en­gine. Re­mem­ber that? Al­most cer­tainly you still use Google Search, a lot. And Google col­lects a lot of data about the searches you make, as it says a lot about you. Sign in and head over to Google and view the search his­tory that Google holds about you. It’s ac­tu­ally quite freaky to see what Google knows you searched for. You can also see your YouTube search his­tory here.

More pro­saic but also crit­i­cal ba­sic in­for­ma­tion can be found in your ac­count de­tails. Sign in and head to my­ac­count.google.com to see the ba­sic data you gave to Google. Head to Dash­board and you can see records of an ar­ray of Google tools, and your ac­tiv­ity with them. We’ll click into a cou­ple of these fur­ther along, but suf­fice to say that this is an im­por­tant dash­board for find­ing out what Google knows about you. Here’s the ba­sic data it is likely to hold about you:

• Name, gen­der and date of birth

• Email ad­dresses

• Phone num­bers

• Where you live

• Where you work

• Web­site you’ve vis­ited

• Searches you made on Google Search

• Your ad pref­er­ences (more be­low)

• Your in­ter­ests

• Places you’ve vis­ited around the world

• Your YouTube search his­tory and re­cently watched videos

• What you’ve said to the Google As­sis­tant

How can I see my Google ac­tiv­ity?

With ease, thanks to a rel­a­tively new tool that gives you a timeline of events and the abil­ity to delete those events in­di­vid­u­ally, should you want to. Log into your ac­count and head to the My Ac­tiv­ity page. You’ll see

some­thing like the screen­shot be­low. This is what’s called the Bun­dle view. You can drill down to the real de­tails if you click Item view at the top left.

You can see more ac­tiv­ity by click­ing Other Google Ac­tiv­ity from the left pane. This gives you links to many other Google ser­vices such as Sound searches, when you’ve left YouTube feed­back or clicked on ‘Not in­ter­ested’ on video sug­ges­tions, Google Play li­brary in­for­ma­tion, In­ter­ests, News pref­er­ences, Call & Mes­sage in­for­ma­tion and even more.

To re­move items, click the three ver­ti­cal dots on any item in your ac­tiv­ity to see a Delete op­tion. How­ever, bear in mind that only you can see this ac­tiv­ity log: it isn’t vis­i­ble to oth­ers.

What does Google think you’re in­ter­ested in?

The prin­ci­ple rea­son Google tracks all this data about you is so that it can more suc­cess­fully tar­get you with ad­ver­tis­ing, in or­der to pay for the free ser­vices you ac­cess. De­pend­ing on your point of view (or de­mo­graphic) this is ei­ther a sin­is­ter men­ace or a cool way of get­ting free stuff.

But it is in­ter­est­ing to find out just what Google thinks it knows about you, and how it uses that to tar­get ads your way. Sign in and head to Set­tings. You will see what Google con­sid­ers to be your gen­der and age, as well as your in­ter­ests.

If you haven’t told the truth when en­ter­ing ba­sic in­for­ma­tion – or you’ve never en­tered it – you might find it amus­ing that Google has your age or gen­der com­pletely wrong. When I do this test with my work

email ac­count Google thinks I am some sort of tech ma­niac. Which makes sense. But on my per­sonal ac­count my in­ter­ests are nat­u­rally more broad. This mat­ters be­cause within this page you have the op­tion to opt out of in­ter­est-based ad­ver­tis­ing.

These are ad­verts tar­geted at you be­cause Google thinks you will be in­ter­ested in their con­tent. Per­son­ally, I am happy to re­main in – in part be­cause I earn my liv­ing from ad­ver­tis­ing on this web­site, but mainly be­cause it amuses me that all the ad­verts I see at work are for tech.

How to stop Google col­lect­ing your in­ter­ests

You can opt out of in­ter­est-tar­geted ads by sim­ply tog­gling off ‘Ad per­son­al­iza­tion’ us­ing the but­ton shown above. You can also opt out of al­low­ing

web­site own­ers to track you via Google An­a­lyt­ics. Head over to the Google An­a­lyt­ics opt out page.

Where does Google think you’ve been?

One of the op­tions avail­able from the Google Set­tings Dash­board out­lined above, is the abil­ity to find out where Google thinks you have been. You can head there di­rectly at Lo­ca­tion His­tory. This is typ­i­cally tracked us­ing the GPS in your phone: chances are even if you don’t use an An­droid phone you’ll still be signed into your Google ac­count on an iPhone.

Stop Google col­lect­ing lo­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion

Click on Man­age Lo­ca­tion His­tory at the bot­tom of the page and tog­gle off Lo­ca­tion His­tory.

What de­vices, apps and ser­vices have ac­cess to your Google data?

In many ways this is the most im­por­tant test of all. One of the ben­e­fits of An­droid is that it lets you know what per­mis­sions are re­quired by each app you in­stall on An­droid. But you en­counter myr­iad Google apps and ser­vices on mul­ti­ple de­vices. This page lists the de­vices and ser­vices, and what ac­cess they have. Click on a listed de­vice and you can see fur­ther de­tails and the op­por­tu­nity to re­voke, on the right-hand side.

How can to change which Google in­for­ma­tion is vis­i­ble to oth­ers

With Google’s About Me tool. This shows what’s pub­licly vis­i­ble, and you can click the pen icon to edit any­thing to re­move it or change it.

It is well worth us­ing Google’s Pri­vacy Checkup tool as well. Head to the Dash­board and click on the Get Started link. Now just go through the list and pick the op­tions you’re happy with.

Bun­dle view

You can per­son­al­ize ads, so you only see ones that are rel­e­vant to you

Google’s Lo­ca­tion His­tory dis­plays where it thinks you’ve been

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