How to See (and Delete) All of Your Google Activity
There's probably a lot more intel about you on the Internet than you think.
What does Google know about me?
Most of us use Google for almost everything: Navigation, scheduling, shopping, games, research, and of course, search. We search for recipes, vacation destinations, historical facts, medical information, news stories, and almost every piece of information a human living in this decade might ever need to know. It’s all on Google. And, once you’ve bought the device and paid the Internet and electricity bills, it’s free.
But what does Google get from us in return? Our time, our attention, and our data. The company is constantly collecting information about where we go both online and in real life, what we do when we get there, and what sorts of questions we are asking the Internet. Google knows how often you go to the grocery store, and when your birthday is. It knows you’re thinking of buying a new houseplant, and it probably knows your political views. Google isn’t the only one after your data, though: this is everything you need to know to make sure your smartphone is secure.
All of this sounds terrifying, but is surprisingly commonplace. Google states that it’s not breaching your privacy—it only analyzes anonymized data; for example, it may hide your data in a group of similar persons, say by grouping you and your neighbors by zip code. But we have tools to see exactly what Google knows about us, and seeing it all laid out can feel pretty invasive.
The tech powerhouse’s hubs “My Account” and “My Activity,” introduced in 2015 and 2016 respectively, give us scary insight into what it actually knows about us. The former provides a glimpse into the information the company collects about us and, most importantly, allows us to change our settings. And the latter allows us to view almost all of our online activity that’s tied our Google accounts. The good news is that these tools allow you to delete your history, and stop Google from tracking you. Make sure you’re using the encrypting features on your smartphone, too.
It’s no surprise that the popular search engine collects lots of data about us through our search history, location, and voice searches. Plus, because iPhone and Android devices are tied to our Google accounts, any web or app activity—including our search history and activity in maps—is automatically turned on for tracking. Here’s how to turn off location tracking on your iPhone and Android phone.
So, why do they do it?
Keeping tabs on our preferences improves Google’s services and provides relevant ads for us. However, here’s the scary part for all you privacy buffs out there: The Google “My Activity” launch revealed that Google can take a comprehensive look at all of the data it has on you, at any given point in time. Google states they do not sell the information on the Google My Activity page to any third party, but having a convenient file of a user’s entire Internet history still feels creepy. Google may also track your location, which gives them additional data about our interests, frequented places, and careers. All of this information makes it easy for Google to analyze what products we’re most likely to be intrigued by, and therefore which advertisements we are most likely to click. Cookies also connect to targeted advertising, so make sure you know how to delete cookies from your phone.
How do I view my activity?
Making sure you’re signed in to your Google account, search “Google My Activity” and arrive on this landing page.
Once on this site, you can scroll down to see your Internet history, possibly stretching years back. If that freaks you out, the next step is to pause tracking! If you’re still freaked out, maybe check your phone for these signs you’ve been hacked.
How do I pause tracking?
Google may know everything about you, (and your smartphone knows just as much) but having happy customers is still a priority, which means that pausing your web activity is a pretty easy process. On the “My Google Activity” page, select “Activity Controls” in the sidebar. This will take you to a page that explains exactly what information Google is tracking.
Disabling the feature
To disable tracking, simply click the blue slider icon on the right of the “Web & App Activity” screen.
Then, select “Pause”
Congratulations, your Web & App Activity is now paused, and your site visits, purchases, and searches will no longer be recorded by Google! Now, go and check these privacy settings on your iPhone.
An extra step for the superstitious
Now, let’s say you want to be extra cautious and delete your web activity completely. On your Google “My Activity” page, select the menu icon (three vertical dots) in the right-hand corner next to the “Search your activity” bar. Select “Delete activity by.”
This will navigate you to a new page, where the drop-down menu will give you the option to delete your activity: By last hour, last day, always, or within a custom date range. If you want to delete all of your history, select “Always.” This will bring up all of your Google-affiliated products: Ads, Gmail, Maps, Search, etc. Make sure they are all selected, and then click “next.” Google will then ask you to confirm that all your selected activity will be permanently deleted. If you want to delete data within a specific time period, just select the certain dates in the drop-down calendar under “custom range.” And just in case, here’s how to delete everything on your phone, too.
Pretty cool, right? It feels good to take control of how your data is used online. You can keep your information safe by buying the most secure phone.
Next, learn how to block websites on Chrome and why knowing this can come in handy.