Here's How To Find Out What Google Knows About You


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

Whenever you access Google, your activity is tracked and recorded – but you do have the power to disable some of these systems. d8nn/Shutterstock

Google’s just become far more open about the data it collects on its visitors – which, by April of this year, was used as the search engine of choice by 89.4 percent of global Internet users. With the launch of its new widget, My Activity, it is providing people with a comprehensive history of almost every single action, website and behavior they engage in online via its services.

Whether you use YouTube, Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or any such browser or search tool via Google, you’ll be able to find a trace of your online paper trail within this virtual individualistic bibliography, all of which can be deleted at will.


Google collects this information for a range of reasons, but the most obvious is to provide tailored advertisements to you as you surf the web. Far from just displaying adverts tailored to individual users on Google sites, this software also sends adverts targeted towards specific users to third-party sites served by Google. According to the Guardian, there are over 2 million of these sites hidden across the Internet.

My Activity allows you to choose whether or not you want to be subjected to this type of targeted advertising mechanism. Importantly, unlike most other online companies, this service has to be opted in to, not opted out of. If you do not manually choose to activate this behavioral information system, you will not get targeted ads.


Targeted ads can now be switched off. Grasko/Shutterstock

In order to find an acceptable middle ground, it encourages users to allow targeted ads, but gives them the option to “mute” the ones they deem irritating or bothersome. This will be music to the ears of many who find that certain ads seem to follow them across the Internet, from site to site, long after they’ve left Google’s main search engine page.


Not everyone has immediate access to My Activity, but users will be notified when they are able to hop on and customize their browsing experience.

Google actually have a long history of allowing users access to the data they collect. Perhaps the most notable case of (somewhat unnerving) transparency came at the start of this month when it was revealed that Google’s voice search records and keeps conversations people have near their smartphones. This feature works by letting users actually vocally ask Google for information, and by saving these recordings, the company says it can improve its language recognition software, along with the sorts of search results specific users are hoping to see.

On a dedicated portal for audio recordings, you can search for every single voice recording you’ve ever made (since June 2015) through Google’s search engine or app, along with what device you recorded it on. Text transcriptions of what you asked for are also sometimes available. The main reason to visit this page is, for most people, to find and delete these recordings, which anyone with a Google account can do manually.

Google’s data collection philosophy appears to be one of complete (or near-complete) transparency. Yes, we collect every piece of data on you possible for a variety of reasons, but we let you know that we do it and you can delete it at will.


Some will be happy with this ethos, whereas the more hawkish privacy campaigners are likely to be displeased. Either way, by this point, it’s fairly likely that some of you have just deleted the Google app on your phone.


See? They've got marshmallows. They can't be so bad. Asif Islam/Shutterstock


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