Here’s How

You can stop Google from track­ing you, but you might not like the re­sults.

PCWorld (USA) - - Contents - BY MICHAEL SI­MON

It’s been a rough month for Google. A new re­port by Dig­i­tal Con­tent Next ( go.pc­ re­veals some trou­bling news: An­droid phones, even when idle, send data to Google at an alarm­ing pace. In fact the study found that an An­droid phone “com­mu­ni­cated lo­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion to Google 340 times dur­ing a 24-hour pe­riod” with the Chrome browser merely ac­tive in the back­ground. That’s 10 times more data than iphones give up.

If that’s not enough to scare you, this

re­port comes on the heels of a class-ac­tion law­suit filed after Google was ac­cused ( go.pc­ of be­ing less than clear about how, when, and where it tracks your lo­ca­tion. In re­sponse to an AP re­port ( go. pc­ that showed An­droid phones still tracked lo­ca­tion even with Lo­ca­tion His­tory turned off, Google changed some of the ver­biage on its pri­vacy page ( go.pc­ to be clearer, but it doesn’t look like it’s go­ing to change its tac­tics.

So if Google’s track­ing treach­ery ran­kles you, you can do some­thing about it—and you don’t have to delete Google from your life ( go.pc­ en­tirely to do so (tempt­ing as that sounds). You might not know it, but you have a sur­pris­ing amount of con­trol over your Google ac­count, as long as you know where to find all the switches. Here’s ev­ery­thing you need to know about Google’s pri­vacy set­tings: where to find them, what you can turn off, and how it all af­fects your phone.


No mat­ter which An­droid phone you’re us­ing or the ver­sion of An­droid that it’s run­ning, you can ad­just the pri­vacy set­tings across all of your de­vices just by vis­it­ing the Set­tings app. Head over to the Set­tings app and you’ll ei­ther find a Google tab or an Ac­counts tab with a Google op­tion in­side. Once you find it, click on Google Ac­count or your email ad­dress, and you’ll be taken to your full ac­count page.

This page is ac­ces­si­ble on any de­vice or the web, and it’s pretty easy to nav­i­gate. Near the top you’ll see a box called Re­view Your Pri­vacy Set­tings, which leads to the Pri­vacy Checkup guide. Tap Get Started to get an overview of your cur­rent set­tings. By de­fault, ev­ery­thing will be turned on, but there are sev­eral lay­ers that can be switched off (or paused, as Google la­bels it).

WEB & APP AC­TIV­ITY What is it?

This is the set­ting that’s been caus­ing Google so much trou­ble. In­de­pen­dent from Lo­ca­tion

His­tory (see be­low), Web & App Ac­tiv­ity saves your searches, places, and other Google ac­tiv­ity to your Google ac­count. That in­cludes browser and Google app searches as well as lo­ca­tion data in Maps and As­sis­tant queries. Google says it uses this data to “give you more per­son­al­ized ex­pe­ri­ences across Google ser­vices, like faster searches, bet­ter rec­om­men­da­tions, and use­ful ads, both on and off Google.”

How do I turn it off?

Tap the Turned On but­ton and flip the tog­gle from blue to gray on the next page. Then tap Pause when prompted.

How does it af­fect my phone?

The gen­eral Google ex­pe­ri­ence on your phone won’t be all that dif­fer­ent, but the things you’re search­ing for might take longer to find. Google uses the web ac­tiv­ity data to learn what and where you search in or­der to au­to­com­plete searches, per­son­al­ize what you see, and just gen­er­ally de­liver smarter re­sults. So you’ll be search­ing with­out a net rather than getting re­sults tai­lored specif­i­cally for your tastes. But all of your queries will work pretty much the same way.

Maps is an­other story. You won’t be able to set Home and Work ad­dresses, and if you’ve pre­vi­ously set them they will be wiped out. How­ever, if you have Lo­ca­tion His­tory turned on, Maps will still re­mem­ber your Home and Work des­ti­na­tions un­der the Driv­ing tab. An­other side ef­fect per­tains to the Google Home. When you ask to con­trol a smart de­vice such as a light bulb, As­sis­tant will tell you it doesn’t know how to do that yet.

I don’t want to turn it off. Can I limit it?

Un­der­neath the tog­gle, you’ll see a check­box that asks if you want to “in­clude Chrome his­tory and ac­tiv­ity from site, apps, and de­vices

that use Google ser­vices.” If you turn this off, you’ll at least limit track­ing to just apps and sites owned by Google.

How do I get rid of old data?

There’s a but­ton la­beled Man­age Ac­tiv­ity that will show you a run­ning list of your app us­age and searches while logged into your Google ac­count. It’s breath­tak­ingly com­pre­hen­sive, but easy to nav­i­gate, with a sim­ple break­down by app, time, date, and top­ics. If you want to get rid of any of it, you can delete a spe­cific item or a full day’s worth of searches by tap­ping the three-dot menu but­ton to the right of each tab and se­lect­ing Delete. Once it’s gone, how­ever, there’s no getting it back.


As its name sug­gests, Lo­ca­tion His­tory is a time­line of the places you’ve been. It’s dif­fer­ent than the lo­ca­tion ser­vices on your phone—which is a sep­a­rate tog­gle in a sep­a­rate tab—but they do work to­gether. Google’s Lo­ca­tion His­tory uses your phone’s GPS, Wi-fi, and mo­bile net­works to cre­ate a map of where you go with your phone. It’s the thing that’s used by the Google app, Google Maps, and other apps to of­fer im­proved searches and routes, and help de­liver bet­ter search re­sults and rec­om­men­da­tions.

How do I turn it off?

Tap the Turned On but­ton to the right of Lo­ca­tion His­tory and then Man­age Set­ting on the next screen. There you’ll see a list of ev­ery de­vice you own that’s shar­ing its lo­ca­tion. You can choose to turn it off for spe­cific de­vices or nuke the whole thing us­ing the tog­gle at the top.

I don’t want to turn it off. Can I limit it?

Nope. It’s an on-or-off thing.

How does it af­fect my phone?

Even if Google isn’t sav­ing your lo­ca­tion his­tory, you can get di­rec­tions and rec­om­men­da­tions. Turn­ing off Lo­ca­tion His­tory means the re­sults will be generic, and your lo­ca­tion won’t be saved in Maps. You also won’t get rec­om­men­da­tions in Maps or no­ti­fi­ca­tions based on places you’ve been. But if you haven’t turned off Web & App Ac­tiv­ity, the places you go might still be saved, just not as reg­u­larly as with Lo­ca­tion His­tory turned on.

How do I get rid of old data?

In­side the Lo­ca­tion His­tory page, tap the Man­age Ac­tiv­ity but­ton. That will take you to your Time­line in Google Maps. If you’ve turned off Lo­ca­tion His­tory, all of your re­cently vis­ited places will al­ready be wiped out. If it’s turned on and you see data here, you can delete a full day’s worth of ac­tiv­ity by tap­ping the three-dot menu in the top right cor­ner and se­lect­ing Delete Day.


The De­vice In­for­ma­tion set­ting in your Pri­vacy dash­board is specif­i­cally re­lated to the phone or PC you’re us­ing. In ad­di­tion

to your searches, Google can ac­cess and save your con­tacts, cal­en­dars, me­dia, and app info to your Google ac­count. Google uses this data to rec­og­nize spe­cific things on your de­vice, such as con­tacts and ap­point­ments, to help you make calls and send mes­sages faster.

How do I turn it off?

Tap the Turned On but­ton and flip the tog­gle on the next page. Then tap Pause when prompted.

I don’t want to turn it off. Can I limit it?

Like Lo­ca­tion His­tory, this op­tion is ei­ther on or off.

How does it af­fect my phone?

De­vice In­for­ma­tion is de­signed for speed and con­ve­nience when search­ing for peo­ple us­ing the Google wid­get, app, or query­ing Google As­sis­tant. That means if you turn it off, when you say, “Hey Google, call Lynn mo­bile,” As­sis­tant won’t be help­ful any­more.

How do I get rid of old data?

Tap the Man­age Ac­tiv­ity but­ton in­side the De­vice In­for­ma­tion set­tings, and you’ll be able to see a run­ning list of updates you’ve made to app or con­tact in­for­ma­tion and where it was ap­plied. There isn’t any per­sonal

data here, just a list of when some­thing was changed, but you can still get rid of it. You can’t delete in­di­vid­ual en­tries, but you can wipe out all of the saved data by tap­ping the menu but­ton to the right and then tap­ping Delete All.


The Voice & Au­dio Ac­tiv­ity set­ting is mainly for Google As­sis­tant. It al­lows Google to record your voice when you tap the mi­cro­phone but­ton or sum­mon Google As­sis­tant to “help you get bet­ter re­sults us­ing your voice,” rec­og­nize the “Hey Google” wake word, and train Voice Match.

How do I turn it off?

Tap the Man­age Voice & Au­dio Ac­tiv­ity but­ton and then Change Set­ting. Then flip the tog­gle to Off.

I don’t want to turn it off. Can I limit it?

You can only turn Voice & Au­dio Ac­tiv­ity on or off, but you can limit what Google can hear by turn­ing off Google As­sis­tant on any de­vice. To do that, tap the com­pass icon in the right cor­ner of the As­sis­tant win­dow, then se­lect Set­tings in­side the three-dot menu, and fi­nally Phone un­der De­vices. That will elim­i­nate any ac­ci­den­tal “Hey Google” trig­gers and limit Google’s record­ing to in­stances where you tap the mi­cro­phone but­ton.

How does it af­fect my phone?

You won’t be able to sum­mon Google As­sis­tant us­ing “Hey Google,” and Google won’t be able to make ad­just­ments to how its voice recog­ni­tion un­der­stands your speech pat­tern and ca­dence. You’ll still be able to use the mi­cro­phone but­ton to dic­tate text, how­ever.

How do I get rid of old data?

If you tap the Man­age Ac­tiv­ity but­ton, you can see a list of ev­ery­thing Google’s recorded. You can even hear lit­tle au­dio files of what you said and how long it was recorded. Like your web and app ac­tiv­ity, you can delete any of it by tap­ping the three-dot menus next to the day or spe­cific ac­tiv­ity and se­lect­ing Delete.


In­side the Pri­vacy Checkup, you’ll see tog­gles for Youtube search and watch his­tory, which you can also turn off. If you’re a heavy

Youtube user, these switches will make it harder for you to find re­cently watched videos and get per­son­al­ized rec­om­men­da­tions.

You can also limit Google’s abil­ity to track your Chrome his­tory by turn­ing on incog­nito mode. In­stead of tap­ping New Tab, se­lect New Incog­nito Tab. Your Chrome bar will turn black to let you know incog­nito mode has been ac­ti­vated. Any­thing you search for or view won’t ap­pear in your browser or search his­tory.

Google pro­vides a Pri­vacy Checkup for ev­ery ac­count.

You can delete in­di­vid­ual items saved in­side the Web & App Ac­tiv­ity win­dow or com­pletely turn it off.

Lo­ca­tion His­tory af­fects your Time­line in Google Maps.

If you turn off De­vice In­for­ma­tion, shar­ing and Google As­sis­tant won’t be able to work as well.

Google As­sis­tant re­lies on Voice & Au­dio data to launch when you say, “OK Google.”

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