From Gmail and Google Photos to Google searches and other online activities, the tech giant tracks all your movements. Almost anything connected with Google (hardware and software) gathers your personal information. However, the tech giant insists it doesn’t spy on you with malicious intent. Instead, your collected details are used to enhance the performance of its services and tools.

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Why and How Google Collects Your Data

One of the reasons Google collects and tracks your personal data is to provide targeted advertisements of various products and services that may suit your daily needs. Google can do this by checking your gender, age range, profession, or interests.

According to security experts, Google, Facebook, and other tech giants engage in these practices to gather user information for targeted advertisements. But the good news is that you can prevent the search giant from tracking your online activities.

Before you do that, it is important to know how Google actually collects and tracks your personal information.

By far, Google’s most popular tool is its search engine. However, it is also the one that mostly collects your personal data.

Google SearchesImage source: Unsplash

Almost everything you do online is tracked by cookies. This may sound alarming, but tracking users’ online activities is essential for a smooth Web experience. Data tracking commonly happens once you log in with your Google account in Chrome and the web browser starts gathering data using various means, such as server logs, data caches, pixel tags, browser web storage, the aforementioned cookies, and more.

The type of data Google collects includes search terms, content and ads that you view and interact with, activity on third-party sites and apps that utilize the Google platform, location data, and your Chrome browsing history that syncs through your Google account.

Google uses this information to offer personalized services for users, like ads and content, and to create new services, improve upon existing ones, for data and analytics purposes, and to protect Google and its users. You can rely on Incognito to avoid adding your searches to your browsing history, but it will still not provide complete anonymity.

2. Google Assistant

The Google-powered AI virtual assistant allows you to control your phone or smart home devices through voice commands, voice-activated device controls, and voice searching.

Google AssistantImage source: Unsplash

According to Google’s privacy policy, the company collects “voice and audio information” to personalize your ads or offer up related content like YouTube videos.” That being said, it’s safe to say that any audio information captured by Google Assistant will likely be collected for company use. Furthermore, Google pays additional attention to details, such as language and country of origin, as well as any searches and other Google account-related activities made through the tool.

The search giant’s motivation for tracking your activities in Assistant is to improve the tool’s speech recognition performance.

Yet, the Assistant’s behavior is far from being abnormal in the tech world. Siri, Alexa, and other virtual assistant services are also tracking every word. Despite being a widespread practice, knowing that your personal data is being track can feel like an invasion of privacy to many.

3. Google Maps

Most of the coordinates you input in Google Maps end up being stored in Google’s database, allowing the company to track another facet of your activities.

Google also gathers GPS and other sensor data from your device to deliver a more accurate location reading and driving directions, as well as show ads and optimize search results based on your location. Even your IP address and data related to things nearby (like cell towers, gadgets emitting Bluetooth signals, and Wi-Fi access points) are all up for grabs.

Google MapsImage source: Unsplash

There are other ways Google can track your information using the Maps tool. One of these is through Google Timeline, a part of Maps that shows your previous search activities. Since it syncs with the images posted on your Google Photos account, it gives Google access to even more of your private data. Aside from this, mobile users can share their location details with other people in real time.

Google has previously justified tracking your information in Maps by stressing its importance for improving the service. For instance, this data can be used to enhance community suggestions and other features. Although user data tracking powers the app’s functions, the amount and duration of the data stored can be somewhat mitigated by certain account settings. However, information collection can still compromise your privacy.

4. Google Photos

It should be no surprise that Google tracks user data through the Photos app as well. The company’s privacy policy states it collects any content that’s created, uploaded, or received through the use of any of its services, and this includes images and videos in Photos. On the plus side, none of this information is reportedly used in the creation of personalized ads.

Google PhotosImage source: Unsplash

Once your images are uploaded to your account, they are automatically processed for facial and object recognition. The app then collects the information connected to your images so that it can efficiently group your photos.

Just like Google Maps, Photos also collects location information. Users can see everywhere they’ve been via the app’s dedicated map. If you’ve taken a road trip and shot pics along the way, they will appear on the map in the Google Photos app.

Photos is a cloud storage service and will upload your files directly to the company’s database. Google also syncs all your image information across all your devices to keep them updated, something that can also prove problematic.

Google User Data Breaches

There have been many times that Google’s database was breached. The very first massive hacking campaign against the tech giant happened back in 2009 and was followed up by other security breaches, including:

  • 2009: Google servers breached by China-backed hackers.
  • 2014: Gmail’s database was breached. More than 5 million passwords leaked online.
  • 2015: an app on Google Play Store was used to infect 1 million Android devices.
  • 2016: another massive Android breach took place. The Gooligan Malware is responsible for the attack.
  • 2018: more than 500,000 user personal data compromised due to a Google Plus bug. The flaw was used for a second breach, leaking a total of 52.5 million data.

These are just some of the reasons people might want to keep their data private. Even Google can’t blame you for wanting to stop it from tracking your personal information. Remember, once your details are breached, they can be used for various malicious campaigns.

How to Prevent Google from Tracking You

Replacing Maps, Photos, and other Google tools or apps may be a hard thing to do since they tend to be better than other alternatives. But you can adjust some settings on your mobile device or PC to prevent the company’s location or data tracking habit.

1. Stop Google from Tracking Your Location

Deactivating your Location History means that Google doesn’t know i your locations anymore. This is one of the most effective ways to protect your privacy. To stop Google from accessing the locations you visit, visit the “My Activity” dashboard.

  1. If you’re already logged in with your account, all you need to do is go to your My Activity page in your browser.

My Google Activity

  1. Click “Location History” so that you can view and control your app and Web activities as well as YouTube history and location history.

Google Activity Control

  1. Tap the Devices on this account option. This will allow you to see all the devices using your Google account.

Google Devices

  1. Tick the box next to the devices you don’t want to be tracked to disconnect them.

Google Devices Using Google

  1. You can also adjust the data collection duration of Google on your location details. Google is offering users the option to auto-delete their history. Click the drop-down menu under “Auto-delete activity older than” and choose whether you’d like your location history to auto-delete activity older than 3 months, 18 months, or 36 months. Otherwise, click “Don’t auto-delete activity” below.

Google Auto Delete History

2. Disable Google Personal Advertisements

Disabling “Google Ad Personalization” is another way to prevent the search engine giant from tracking you. The company allows you to choose whether the ads you see are personalized based on things like interests and brand preferences. If “Google Ad Personalization” is disabled, Google will no longer be able to use your personal details to create targeted advertisements. Here’s how to disable it.

  1. Log in to Google Account and go to the “Data & Privacy” tab.

Google Data And Privacy

  1. Scroll down until you reach “Ad settings.”

Ad Settings

  1. Click the “Ad personalization” option to be redirected to another section.

Ad Personalization

  1. Toggle off the button next to “Ad personalization is ON” if you don’t want Google to keep tracking your activities just to generate targeted advertisements.

3. Delete All Data and Activity Stored by Google

Google My Activity offers a quick way to customize and delete any information stored by the platform, as far as web activity, location/YouTube history, and ad personalization is concerned. To get rid of all this information, just follow the steps below:

  1. Navigate to Google’s My Activity dashboard and sign in if you haven’t done so yet.

Delete Data Activity Myactivity

  1. Click “Delete activity by” in the panel on the left side of the page.

Delete Data Activity Deleteactiv

  1. A small pop-up will appear where you can select the date range of activities you want to be deleted. You can choose between the last hour, last day, all time, or a custom range.

Delete Data Activity Select Range

Note: you can also click “Activity controls” on the left panel of the main page to manage or turn off the different activities collected by Google.

4. Disable Web & App Activity

If you don’t want Google storing the sensitive information from above, the best thing you can do is deactivate the activity feature entirely. Here’s what you should do:

  1. On your Google Account, click “Data & Privacy.”

Data And Privacy

  1. Scroll down a bit until you find the Web & App Activity section.

Web App Activity 1

  1. Under Web & App Activity, select “Turn off.”

Web And App Activity Turn Off 1

  1. Click “Pause.”

Pause Web And App Activity

  1. Click “Got it.”

Note: if you’ve previously saved “Web & App Activity,” click “Delete old activity.”

Setting Is Off

  1. In the next panel, select “Auto-delete” and select an option.

Auto Delete 1

  1. You can choose to auto-delete activity older than 3, 18, or 36 months. Select your preferred activity and click “Next.”

Choose Auto Delete Option

  1. Click “Confirm.”

Deleting Activity

  1. Click “Got it.”

Preference Saved

5. Stop Google Assistant from Listening to You

Stopping Google Assistant from listening to you is not a complicated process, as explained below.

  1. First, open your virtual assistant by saying, “Hey Google, open Assistant settings.” You can do this on either your tablet or Android smartphone.

Delete Data Activity Google Assistant Settings

  1. Scroll down and tap “General.”

Delete Data Activity Google Assistant General

3. Toggle off the “Google Assistant” option.

Delete Data Activity Google Assistant Disable

6. Browse Privately

Removing personal data and adjusting the search history settings are not the only methods you can rely on to prevent Google from spying on you. You can also use Chrome’s Incognito Mode so that you can be as anonymous as possible.

  • To access the Incognito Mode, open a Chrome tab and click the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Shift + N.
  • If you are using your smartphone, just open your Chrome app and click the “three dots” symbol in the upper-right corner of your screen. From there, tap on the Incognito Mode.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What does Google do to protect your data privacy?

Google explained that it uses advanced security features to ensure the safety of your data. These include Safe Browsing mode, 2-Step Verification, Security Checkup, and data encryption.

2. What does Google do during a data breach?

The search engine giant ensures that users will be notified if there is a sudden data breach on its services. You will receive a warning message through Chrome or your Gmail account.

3. How can I get Google to remove my data?

If you are still not satisfied with the methods provided above, you can contact Google to remove your data. However, this will depend on whether your case really needs data removal. For example, if your non-consensual sexual content is available on Google Search, you can contact the tech firm and request that your data be removed from its search platform.

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