You probably know that Google collects a lot of data about you when you use the company's various services. But did you know that you can actually review this data, delete what you don't want Google to keep, and change how it stores this information in the future?
Let's take a look at some of the data control options Google offers, and how to take advantage of them.
Visit Your Google Account Management Page
You can access the Google account management page from Google's homepage, as well as many of Google's other services. From Google's main page, click your profile icon in the top-right, then choose Manage your Google Account.
This will open a new page with various options concerning your Google account. For now, we're interested in the Data & personalization tab on the left side. Once you click this, you'll see an Activity controls box near the top.
Click Manage your activity controls here to open a page with options related to what Google records about you.
Google's Activity Controls
On the Activity controls page, you'll see several boxes containing information tied to your account.
For each one, you can disable the slider at the top to pause tracking of that category. There's also an Auto-delete option, where you can choose to erase all the data in the category every 3, 18, or 36 months. The Manage activity option is important, as it lets you see the individual data Google has stored for you.
Let's go through each of these briefly.
Web & App Activity
This category contains all of your activity with Google services like search, Google Assistant, Google Calendar, Gmail, the Google Play Store, and many more.
If you check the Include Chrome history... box, this will also include all your activity in Chrome, plus any website that use Google ads. And the Include audio recordings will store clips of audio that you use to search the web by voice, or commands you give to Google Assistant.
Clicking Manage activity here lets you see a running list of everything you've searched on Google, watched on YouTube, and much more. Click the X at the top-right of any item to delete it from your history. You can also use the Search your activity bar to find anything specific, or use Filter by date & product if you only want to see certain types of data.
Click the Delete box if you want to delete all your activity for the last day or hour, or erase everything. You can also set a custom range of time to delete.
The next category collects information about the places you go with your devices. Selecting Manage activity for this option shows a timeline of everywhere you've visited with your phone on you and location enabled. Click around the map to see dots for each place, and click one for more information. At the bottom of the screen, you can see all the places you've visited, and the ones you visit most.
In the Timeline at the top-left, you can filter by date to show where you were at a certain date. Select a date to see the full timeline of your day, including where you went, pictures you took there, and how long you spent at each place. If you zoom in, you'll even see the specific path you took on the road.
Like your web activity, you can click the Trash icon to remove a day of data from Google's records. Use the Gear icon at the bottom-right to access more deletion options.
Just like the name suggests, this keeps track of videos you watch on YouTube. Uncheck the Include the YouTube videos you watch or Include your searches on YouTube boxes if you don't want Google to keep track of this.
The Manage activity section for this essentially identical to the Web & App Activity one, except it's filtered to only show YouTube content.
The last section on this page is a shortcut to Google's Ad Settings menu. This allows you to disable ad personalization, so that Google doesn't use the info it has about you to show you more relevant advertisements.
When you turn this off, it uses general info, like your location and the website you're on, to show ads.
What Does Google Do With This Data?
Primarily, Google records all this information because the majority of its income comes from advertising, and data is crucial for that purpose. However, these pages also state how Google can use the information to "make your experience more personal," or similar.
For example, when you have web activity turned on, Google can run "faster searches" and give "more helpful content recommendations" since it knows what you're interested in. Leaving your YouTube history enabled can "give you better recommendations" for more videos.
Whether you find this useful or creepy is up to you. Having these services more personalized is useful in some cases, but it's also a bit alarming to know that the biggest advertising company in the world keeps all this data on you.
Setting up an auto-deletion schedule is a good middle ground, if you're not sure what to do. That way, your recent activity will improve Google's services for you, but you won't provide the company with years of data about yourself. Keep in mind that if you turn off one of these activity tracking types, doing so won't delete past data. You'll need to do this separately.
Manage Your Google Data
Now you understand what kinds of information Google keeps tied to your account, and how to review and delete this. Don't forget to check in every so often, and consider deleting data that you don't think Google should have anymore.
If you're interested in more, why not check out Google Trends to see what the world searches for?