Technology has become an almost indispensable part of modern society. We rely on it heavily for almost everything and may not necessarily notice the seemingly tailored experience that each service provides. For example, Youtube suggests videos based on the ones you’ve previously watched, Instagram suggests accounts to follow and posts to view based on your likes and interests, Online shopping suggests products to buy based on things you’ve viewed or bought, etc.
You may be thinking “What does it matter. It’s not like they’re holding any important information anyway. Is it?”
Search giant Google is among the many companies that hold your personal data. Google now processes on average over 40,000 search requests every second. If you have a Google account these searches and the data you share with them are stored within your account. Many companies hold onto your personal data in order to provide a much more tailored service, increasing their chances of you purchasing more products or viewing more posts, etc.
But what exactly do companies like Google know about you?
Well it all depends on the level of information sharing you have with them. The exact level of information they have may just surprise you, and it is definitely worth taking a look to ensure you’re happy with the information it stores.
Here’s how to find out exactly what google knows:
Sign into your Google account
Go to history.google.com/history
Your ‘My Activity’ Homepage will come up
- Here you will be able to view all the search data that Google has about you.
- You can go through and delete specific searches.
- If you want to stop Google from recording your searches, click on the ‘My Account’ button in the menu on the left hand side and go to the ‘Personal info & privacy‘ page and under ‘Activity controls‘ untoggle ‘Your searches and browsing activity‘.
- Google warns that pausing this setting will prevent products like Google Now and Google+ from using your web and app activity to improve their suggestions and updates and provide personalised content.
Filter your search
- Whilst on the ‘My Activity’ homepage you can filter the results of your search to specific dates and product types. Simply click on the ‘Filter by date & product‘ box at the top and select the time period you’re interested in or even the particular product your interested in such as Google maps, etc.
- Select ‘all time‘ to view all the products and dates that you have accessed Google’s services.
Check your location settings
- Google doesn’t just store your search history, it also stores your location if you use Google maps documenting precisely where you’ve been and what routes you’ve taken.
- To view this click on the ‘Activity Controls’ button in the menu on the left handside of the ‘My Activity’ homepage. From there you will need to scroll down to the ‘Location History’ section and click on the ‘Manage Activity’ button.
- Providing you’ve accepted the use of location services, you’ll get a Google Maps page showing exactly where you’ve been and when and what transport you used to get there.
Check your active device settings
- Google has a list of all the devices you have ever used to log into your Google account. It is therefore worth having a look at this list in order to see which devices still have access and remove any that are no longer in use.
- Click on the ‘My Account’ button in the menu on the left handside of the ‘My Activity’ homepage. Click the ‘Sign-in & security‘ tab and scroll down to ‘Device activity & security events‘. Here it will show you a list of ‘Recently used devices‘, with information on when they were last used to access your account.
- If there are any devices on the list that you no longer use, click on them and then click the ‘Remove‘ button.
Who does Google think you are?
- Google builds a profile of what it has identified is your age and gender, and a list of your interests.
- To view this click on the ‘My Account’ button in the menu on the left handside of the ‘My Activity’ homepage. Scroll down until you see the ‘Personal info & Privacy’ heading and click on ‘Ads Settings’. Here you will be able to view the profile that Google has created based on your search history and interactions with Google.
- You can edit these interests, if you want to see more relevant ads, or delete them all, if you’d rather Google didn’t try to tailor your ad experience.
- However, Google says that the ads you see may still be based on your general location (such as city or state) or recent searches.
How to delete it all
- If you’ve reviewed the data that Google has collected and are happy with it you can carry on as you were.
- However, if you wish to erase the information that Google has you can delete it all and switch location tracking off.
- To do this click on the ‘Delete activity by’ button in the menu on the left handside of the ‘My Activity’ homepage. This allows you to delete by a specific time period or to delete the information related to a particular topic. If you want to delete all the information it has you will need to select the option ‘All time’ and ‘All products’.
- By erasing the data you will no longer receive any tailored ads or recommendations and will no longer be able to view your search history.