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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Google and your privacy: A detailed look at all the data it collects, how to manage this better

We take a look at how you can stop Google from tracking you if you want some privacy.

Written by Ankita Garg | Lucknow |
Updated: September 22, 2021 11:23:30 am
Google, Google water replenishing plans, Google water consumption, Google water saving, Google news, Google latest news,A detailed look at how Google tracks you and how you can stop it (Image source: AP File photo)

Google offers a wide range of services that are used by billions of users. However, thanks to the help of its services, it also knows the places you visit, the purchases you make, and everything else you do online. Google insists that it doesn’t sell your data and that users have plenty of control tools to restrict the data being collected.

But many times users are not just aware of these tools. Given how dependent we are on Google, let’s take a look at how you can get better control over Google and the data it collects about your online behaviour.

Google Account Settings: Turn off ‘Activity tracking’

This is part of the Google Account Settings and it is better to keep the Activity tracking off for enhanced privacy. Google says this feature helps users easily “rediscover the things that you’ve searched for, read, and watched.”

However, for those who do not want Google to have a huge trove of data with all of their online activities stored, it is important to turn off ‘Activity’ tracking across core Google products be it Search or YouTube or Maps.

Google allows users to turn off activity tracking and delete all the data for its products. One can also set it to ‘automatically delete’ after a short period. The search giant lets users set auto-delete for 3 months, 18 months, and 36-months.

The image shows the activity controls feature. (Express image)

If you want Google to stop tracking your activities, follow these steps:

Just type Google Activity tracking on a browser and the Activity Controls page will appear in the results. If you are signed in to your Google account in that browser, then the link will directly show data controls for the account.

You will see three options at the top – “Web & App Activity,” Location History, and “YouTube History.”

Web activity tracking: The web and app activity deals with everything you do online using Chrome, Google, and other services from the company. All the data gets stored and you can delete everything in one go. Or you can choose to delete select activities from the list.

When you go to “Web & App Activity” and tap on “Manage activity,” Google will display all your activities, including the web pages you visit, your online searches. Even if you open Google apps such as Play Store, Maps, Voice Assistant, all of this information is collected in the section.

You can disable this by heading to My Google activity page > Web and App activity > Turn off toggle. On the same page, you get the option to set an auto-delete time for all your activities. When you are on the “Manage activity” page of “Web & App Activity,” then you will also see a manual option to delete everything.

YouTube history tracking: Everything that you do on YouTube, including your video searches or your likes/comments on videos, is also stored as part of your account information. The company stores the data of all the videos that you watch.

Once again you can delete all the data in the Manage Activity section or set auto-delete. You can permanently turn off the YouTube history tracking by going to My Google activity page > YouTube History > Turn off toggle.

Location tracking: On the Activity Controls page, you will also find a location tracking section. You can then tap on “Manage Activity,” after which Google will display a map, showing you the places you’ve been and the routes you’ve travelled.

You can choose to turn it off by going to My Google Activity page > Location History > Turn off toggle.

The image shows the location tracking feature. (Express image)

What to keep in mind about Google and Location tracking

Google says if you turn off your device’s locations, then your location will not be automatically saved to your Location History. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case in reality. But in 2018, AP reported that even if you turn off the location setting Google will still be able to track your movements, as per the investigations done by Associated Press. The news agency revealed that the company can track user location through services like Google Maps, weather updates, and browser searches.

Google itself admits that some location data is still collected. “Some location data may continue to be saved in other settings, like Web & App Activity, as part of your use of other services, like Search and Maps, even after you turn off Location History.”

Other activity settings: There are other activities too that Google keeps a track of, which you can review here and delete as well.

Deleting audio recordings

The search giant uses its audio recognition tech to process your audio and respond to you when you interact with Google Search, Assistant, and Maps. The company says it can store all the audio recordings if you allow it to do so. The feature is by default off, but users can double-check the settings to be sure.

Step 1: To turn on or off audio recordings on your Android phone or tablet, go to your device’s Settings app > Google > Manage your Google Account.

Step 2: Tap on “Data & privacy.”

Step 3: Under “History settings,” tap Web & App Activity.

Step 4: Now, uncheck the box next to “Include audio recordings” to turn the setting off.

The image shows ‘Ad personalised’ feature. (Express image)

Turn off personalised ads

If you don’t want the company to show you personalised ads, then you can turn off the personalised ads option here.

There you will also see the “Advanced” option, which states Google “also uses your activity and information from Google services to personalise ads on websites and apps that partner with Google to show ads. This stores data from websites and apps that partner with Google in your Google Account.

When you scroll down a bit on the same page, you will see the ad profile that Google has made for you. The page shows a list of topics that Google believes you are interested in. You can just select any topic and tap on the “turn off” button. If you don’t want to individually disable the personalised ads option for every topic, then you can simply turn off the Ad personalisation option that you see on the top of the page.

But remember Google is not the only ad network tracking you to create personalised ads.

It is worth noting that Google says it doesn’t sell your data, but to provide you free services, the search giant works with advertisers.

“Google doesn’t sell your personal info to anyone, and doesn’t let anyone read your emails to show you ads. Websites that host ads can only see info that you ask Google to share,” the company said.

“Your Google Account activity and information will not be used to personalise ads on non-Google websites and apps,” Google said.

Don’t forget Chrome cookies…

Cookies can also be used to track you. When you open a site, you might have noticed a small window popping up, asking you to accept cookies. While cookies can be helpful in making your online experience easier by saving browsing information, they also help advertisers track you.

With cookies, sites can keep you signed in, remember your site preferences, and give you locally relevant content. But, it is always better to delete the cookies on every browser and block the third-party/advertiser cookies.

Browsers like Firefox and Safari block third-party cookies by default, which is not the case with Chrome. A few months back, Google announced in a blog post that it will soon stop tracking individual people’s web browsing for advertising purposes, which will happen when Chrome will start blocking third-party cookies.

“We’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products,” Google said.

You can clear cookies by clicking on the three-dotted menu in the upper-right corner on Chrome (PC) and then select More tools > Clear browsing data. A small box will pop up, just click on the second and third boxes to delete cookies and clear the cache. You can also select the time range for the same.

Users can also simply type “chrome://settings/content/cookies” on Google and they will be redirected to Chrome settings. Here, you can ask Chrome to “clear cookies and site data when you close all windows.”

You can do this by just enabling this feature on that page. There are also options to block third-party cookies altogether. On an Android phone, you just need to go to Settings > Privacy > Clear Browsing Data.

What else you can do?

If you don’t want Google to have any of your data, then you should probably stop using its services and find other privacy-oriented alternatives such as DuckDuckGo, though they also lack the convenience and ease of Google. For those who want to use Google, the best way to get control over your data is to limit the settings and make sure you regularly delete your data.

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