Alternative search engines such as DuckDuckGo are attracting growing numbers of privacy focused users, but there’s no doubt that Google dominates the industry, even on Apple products. Fortunately, there are several ways to make your Google activity more private.
Do you have a Google account? (You probably do)
Do you use Gmail? Did you one use Google +? Perhaps you employ Google Drive, Google Docs or any of the company’s other products. If so, you have a Google account.
You can sign into this account online (at google.com) or through the app – just tap the identity icon at the top right of the browser and choose Account.
You’ll be directed to a page which offers several topics (Home, Personal Info, etc). The Home page lists multiple privacy and security topics.
These are tools that regulate your use of Google services via an Apple (or any) device, in a sense they override the privacy settings on your Apple product, so you should get to know Google’s settings, too.
How to control Web & App Activity on Google
Google collects information about your search and app activity. That is all the searches you’ve made, and more. It keeps this data indefinitely by default, but you can control this.
- From the Home page in your Google account, tap Data & Personalization, and then choose Take the Privacy Checkup and select Activity Controls.
- In the Web & App Activity section, select Manage Web & App Activity (this should be in blue).
- You should see a note telling you this feature is active with a small grey icon beside it. Tap the icon and in the next page you’ll be able to toggle Web & App Activity to off, meaning Google will no longer gather some of this data.
- You should then tap Manage Activity, written in blue below.
You will probably find your data is being kept automatically until you choose to delete it.
You can override that setting:
Tap Choose to Delete automatically and you’ll be presented with three options:
- Keep until you delete it manually,
- Or keep for 18-months and then delete automatically,
- Or keep for three months until automatically deleting this data.
How long you choose is up to you: How often do you intend scratching away deep inside Google’s privacy settings?
Not too often, I imagine – I use the three-month option. I still think that’s too long for Google to be analysing my data, but it is at least automatically deleted, albeit three months later than I want. However, I also switch Web & App Activity off.
How to stop Google tracking your location
Google uses a huge host of technologies to track users. It gathers this data to help optimize its advertising business, as well as to support its services.
You should first find out what Google knows about where you have been. Visit myactivity.google.com and you’ll find a plethora of settings to control the company’s data collection.
These include the Web & App Activity we looked at above, and adds:
- Device information
- Voice & Audio Activity
- YouTube Watch History
- YouTube Search
- Location History
There’s also a catch-all section called “Other Activity”.
While this seems to mainly consist of YouTube habits, it also includes Google Ads Settings, purchases and reservations (more below) and a host of other information, some of which you may not have realised Google keeps about you. There are over 20 topics in ‘Other Activity alone!
To control Location history, tap the blue Manage Activity button and see what data is there. I have mine toggled to Off, which means no data is collected.
To do so, tap Manage Location History (again) from the page that shows you where you’ve been on the map.
To delete item(s) from this history, select it and tap the insanely hard to see tiny black trashcan icon at the lower right area on the map.
How to stop Google knowing what you’ve purchased
If you use Gmail then you probably know that Google analyses your messages for information.
One thing you may not have known is that this analysis is smart enough to identify sales receipts and maintains a record of all the things you’ve ever bought that have sent a sales receipt to you. That’s all your Amazon purchases made via that Gmail account, for example.
You probably need to take a look at what they know.
Visit: myaccount.google.com/purchases and login to your Google account and you’ll see purchases split into Google purchases and Gmail confirmations. The latter will surface all the confirmation receipts you receive particularly from Amazon. That’s right, it means anyone who can get into your Google account can review all the items you purchased from Amazon when confirmation emails are sent to you by Gmail.
Change your default Amazon account email address to use another email service. That's a much easier way to stop this tracking than manually tapping on each purchase listing in order to choose “Remove Purchase” in the next window.
Explore the rest
I’ve really only scratched the surface of the information Google collects. It’s worth exploring all the sections listed on your myaccount.google.compages as you attempt to control it – did you even realize it kept your travel reservations? I didn’t until I began writing this short article...
One more thing
If nothing else, the extent of the information Google holds about you – including recordings of all your Google Assistant requests – underlines why every user should be vigilant about the permissions for data collection they give any online service.
It’s also why everyone should enable dual factor authentication to access their account and use complex alphanumeric passcodes.