If you use Google’s services, the company gathers a lot of information about you. To its credit, the company makes finding and deleting the information simple by putting it all on one website. Here’s how to see the majority of Google’s information about you, as well as how to erase it if you want to.
When you remove data from your Google Account, the company begins deleting it automatically and ceases using it for personalization. Google says, “We then begin a process designed to safely and completely remove the data from our storage systems.” It may be required to hold some details for legal reasons, as detailed in the link above.
The My Account website is the best place to start if you want to see what details Google has on you. You can access the details you’ve provided as well as data the organization has collected in the past from this page.
The My Accounts site has a set of tabs at the top, as well as some informational tiles covering topics such as account security and privacy, how much available storage you’ve used, and a quick link to the personalization section.
You could go through each tab, but we’ll stick to the tabs at the top to focus our purge strategically. We’ll also move around a little to get to the parts that contain the most sensitive personal information.
The Personal Information tab is the best place to start. Your name, nickname (usually your first name), birthdate, gender, backup email addresses for account recovery, and phone numbers are all listed here. If you click something in this section with a right-pointing arrow, you’ll be taken to a screen where you can manage your results.
Almost all of this data can be removed, or modified if necessary. Your name and nickname are two important pieces of information that Google needs. You can’t erase your birthdate if Google has it, but you can change it and limit who can see it. If you have any alternative usernames, you will be unable to update or erase them.
Go to the link and click it. In the “Choose what others see” tile at the bottom of the list, go to About me. You won’t be deleting details here; instead, you’ll be deciding who will see it through Google’s services.
Your Chrome browsing history, search history, YouTube search and viewing histories, and the all-important location history are all part of your Google activity history (largely culled from mobile devices).
The most critical aspect of personal privacy is Location History. Select Data & personalization > Activity Controls > Location History from the drop-down menu.
You’ll see a variety of choices on the next screen, including the ability to switch Location History on and off right at the top. You can set an auto-delete option to delete information that is older than 3 months, 18 months, or 36 months. Google Maps opens with a “manage operation” section where you can uninstall what details Google has on a case-by-case basis.
Under Data & personalization > Activity Controls > Web & App Activity, you can see your browsing and search history. We’re taken to a new tab, this time with some simpler controls. With a single click, you can disable your Chrome history and behavior on other Google services.
You can choose not to save voice recordings, which would contain all of your Google Home requests as well as all other Google Assistant queries on other devices. This option is turned off by default, but if you turn it on and then turn it off again, previous recordings will not be removed.
Below that is another auto-delete tool, as well as links to Google’s My Activity page, which allows you to delete previous audio recordings, personal searches, and app use on Android.
Finally, your YouTube histories, which include your watch and search histories, are available. This is found under Data & Personalization > Activity Controls > YouTube History, and it uses the same basic settings as the other two sections.
Contacts and ad personalization
If you’ve decided to manage your contacts on a different service, such as your own Nextcloud instance, you may want to delete your Google contacts. You don’t need to go into Gmail to manage this; it’s all in My Account at People & sharing > Contacts. You can also go to the dedicated Contacts site while logged in to your Google account.
This section of the My Account site allows you to enable or disable features like automatically saving contacts from your signed-in devices, such as a phone. There is also an option to save contact information for people with whom you interact in Google services.
This setting, however, does not apply to a similar setting in Gmail. To do so, go to Gmail’s settings and select General > Create contacts for auto-complete.
Take a look at Data & personalization > Ad personalization > Go to ad settings if you want to delve into the strange world of Google data analytics. This section allows you to toggle ad personalization in Google products on and off (based on your browsing, search history, YouTube history, and so on).
There is an entire section below that shows how your ads are personalized. This includes basic information such as your age, gender, marital status, and language. However, it also includes a long list of advertising topics that Google believes you are interested in.
It appears that after a few searches, something gets tagged in this section. You can’t erase all of these categories if ad personalization is activated, but you can switch them off so Google won’t show you ads related to them.
Google has a lot of information about you, but it’s only accessible from a single, easy-to-navigate website. Enjoy exploring the depths of your online identity, or at least Google’s interpretation of it.