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We know that Google tracks all our online searches through their website. We know that Google scans all our Gmail for key words. We know that Google does the same for files developed with GoogleDocs and stored in GoogleCloud. Does that bother you? It certainly does me.
But this is part of the Google business plan … record and track our lives so they can develop profiles on us and resell that information to marketers, government agencies, and other interested parties that will pay for it.
Ever wonder how you can search for a topic, and then almost immediately ads for those very topics suddenly appear in other websites you visit? It’s the data Google collects about us and sells to others. Yes, Google makes it’s money by selling data about our personal lives.
And the data itself is only half the story: Google also compiles a huge amount of stats—stats that, for better and for worse, shed light onto the tech-connected habits of our modern lives. How many emails have you actually sent over the years, for instance, and how many thousands of webpages have you pulled up in your browser? It really is enlightening, among other things, to see your actions broken down so precisely.
And remember, too, that all this data collection is completely optional—and very much a tradeoff: By agreeing to let Google store and use your data, you’re getting access to an ever-expanding array of futuristic features at no monetary cost. But the decision is ultimately in your hands.
How much of this data actually applies to you depends on which Google services you use and how exactly you use them. For example, Android users who take advantage of built-in features such as voice commands, location history and photo backups will almost certainly have more data tracked by Google than non-Android users.
But anyone who regularly uses Gmail, Google search, Google Maps, YouTube, Chrome and/or other Google services from any mobile device or computer need to know that Google is tracking you very closely.
But just what is it that they Know? Well Google representative won’t give a complete breakdown of what they know about us, but simply reasoning indicates that here are just a few:
- Chrome Browser saves everything you do
If you use the Chrome browser and typically stay signed into it, check out your account’s Chrome Sync settings page to see all sorts of stats about your personal browsing habits—things like how many bookmarks you’ve saved, how many tabs you have open across different devices and how many websites you’ve typed into Chrome’s address bar (since last resetting your browser’s history).
- Your Gmail send/receive history
Provided you use Gmail’s archiving system instead of permanently deleting messages, you may be in for a shock: Click the aptly named “Gmail” header in Google’s account dashboard, and get ready to be shocked. Even though you may only have a few emails in your Inbox and other mail folders, Google retains ALL of them in case you want them back, at least that’s their excuse.
- A track record of every place you’ve visited
Google Maps’ Timeline feature contains a detailed diary of your every move—down to the minute. No exaggeration: If you carry an Android phone and have opted into location history, the site will show you where you were every moment of every day.
And if you really want to see what creepy is like, open Timeline from a desktop and click the year tab in the upper-left corner of the screen. Select “All Time,” then click the red box in the lower-left corner to see an ordered list of your most visited places.
- A complete history of your voice commands
If you use voice commands on Android or any other Google product, head to the “Voice & Audio” section of Google’s My Activity site to see and hear a comprehensive list of everything you’ve ever said to that inanimate object in your pocket.
- A comprehensive collection of every site you’ve visited in Chrome—on any device
These days, Chrome isn’t just a desktop browser—it’s also a recording program that keeps track of everything you do.
See where you’ve been on the web (while signed in to Chrome) by opening Google’s My Activity page and checking “Chrome” in the filter list.
If you’re not seeing your Chrome history on the My Activity page, go to the Activity controls and make sure the Web & App Activity toggle is on and the “Include Chrome browsing history and activity from websites and apps that use Google services” box is checked. Your Chrome activity will be tracked from this point forward.
- Exactly how many Google searches you’ve made this month
At its basic, Google is a search engine. Learn how much you search by scrolling down to the “Search History” header in Google’s account dashboard. Click the header to see precisely how many times you’ve called upon Google’s knowledge from any device while signed into your Google account in the past month—along with a breakdown of your most common search types and some of your most frequently used queries.
- A record of the images you’ve stored with Google Photos
Google Photos allows you to store all your images and access them anywhere with GoogleCloud. To get reminded of your Google photo history, go to the “Photos” header in Google’s account dashboard.
- How many YouTube videos you’ve watched this month
Watching those videos can be a real time-thief, but they want it that way so you’ll keep glancing at the ads they flash or countdown for you. One video can easily turn into 20.
Discover just how much YouTube time wasting you’ve done in the last month (while logged into your Google account) by visiting Google’s account dashboard and clicking the “YouTube” header.
How to take back control
Want to turn off specific types of data collection or delete existing info from your Google account history? The Google privacy site is the best place to start; there, Google provides detailed information about how each type of data is used along with links to opt out of any specific areas. You can also visit Google’s Activity controls page for a simple single-page list of on-off toggles.
If you’re looking to clean up your history for anything that Google has been tracking, head to the My Activity site. You can delete any individual item right then and there by clicking the three-dot icon in its upper-right corner and choosing Delete, or click the “Delete activity by” link in the left column for an easy way to erase info based on date and/or product.
Data collection controls can be also found on an Android device by opening the main system settings and selecting Google (or, if you’re on an older device, looking for the standalone Google Settings app) and then tapping “Personal info & privacy.”
Be Safe – Backup Your Data Regularly!
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