The data that Google is gathering on you stretches across Gmail, Google Maps, Android devices, web searches, smart speakers, your video viewing habits, and more. That’s a lot of information, but Google makes it available for you to view and delete if you want to—and here’s how to go about it.
With each passing year, Google seems to get more concerned about positioning itself as privacy-conscious, and part of that involves making the data that it holds on you accessible (and erasable). You can find everything all together in one place in fact, on your Google account page on the web.
Once you’ve signed in, you’ll see various sections and options, including a list of all the Google services you subscribe to, and how much storage you’re paying for (and perhaps sharing with family members) with Google One.
For the basics that Google knows about you—the information you probably gave up when you created the account—click Personal info on the left. You’ll see your name, your date of birth, your email address(es) and your phone number, for example.
To start digging deeper, follow the Data & personalisation link from the left-hand menu. Now there’s a whole host of sections and features here, but right at the top you’ll see a box labelled Activity controls: This holds most of the data that Google has on you, and it’s split into six major sections. You can click on any section to view more details and to wipe some or all of the records that have been logged.
Web & App Activity covers everything you search for on the web while you’re signed into Google, the pages you visit, the Google Docs you open, the apps you use on your Android devices (though not what happens in those apps), the voice commands you’ve been giving Google Assistant, and so on. Everything you do while signed in on a Google product—whether Android, Chrome, or anything else—gets logged here.
The sort of detail it goes into varies though. For example, your Gmail searches get listed, but not the names of individual emails you sent or received. The activity record includes when you opened apps like Instagram or Snapchat, but not what you did with them. In the case of Google Play Movies & TV, you can see the movies and shows you’ve watched.
Up at the top of the page, you can filter it by date or by product, or you can search for something specific (like a webpage you’ve visited or an app you’ve used). If you don’t like Google collecting all this information on you, you can switch off the flow by clicking Web & App Activity is on and turning the toggle switch off.
If you’re happy to have the tracking continue—for the “faster searches, better recommendations, and more personalised experiences” Google says it can provide with the data—you can still delete individual items by clicking the three dots to the side of an entry and choosing Delete.
Directly above the list is a new feature Google has just introduced that lets you automatically delete this data after three or 18 months if you don’t want it sticking around forever. You can also access more comprehensive wiping options by clicking Delete activity by on the left (you can erase everything logged in a particular app, for example, or everything logged during a particular month).
Location History is the second of the six major sections, and as the name suggests, it includes records of your whereabouts over time. This data is pulled from devices you’re logged into with location logging enabled. To completely stop this tracking, turn the main toggle switch off.
Click through to Manage activity, and you get to your Timeline: All the places you’ve ever been, logged by Google. You can browse by month, by year, or by date, down at the bottom Google will show you a list of the places you’ve visited most often, so you can see which bar or restaurant is your favourite.
You can delete individual days from the record by browsing to a day and clicking the trash icon. To erase an individual location entry, click the three dots by it and choose Remove stop from day. To delete absolutely everything, click the Timeline button (top left) to go back to the overview, then click the trash icon to the lower right (or the cog icon beside it and then Delete all Location History).
Google is rolling out the same auto-delete feature—for the last three months or the last 18 months—that we mentioned in the Web & App Activity section above. It’s not live in our account yet so we can’t tell you exactly how it works, but it should be a simple selection from a drop-down menu.
Voice & Audio Activity is next up, a place that logs everything you’ve said to the Google Assistant on your phone or through your smart speaker. You can even play the recordings back to yourself. As with the previous sections, you can pause this category of data logging by turning the master toggle switch off.
Here, individual entries can be erased from the record by clicking the three dots to the right and then choosing Delete. Follow the Delete activity by link on the left to wipe out recordings based on the product you’ve used or a date (choose All time as the date if you want to delete everything).
Device Information is the fourth of the six activity categories, and it works a lot like the sections we’ve already looked at (with a master toggle switch for pausing this type of tracking). This section doesn’t go into great depth, and simply logs the devices you connect to your Google account—individual entries can be removed using the three dot buttons to the side, or you can wipe everything by choosing Delete all on the left.
Our final two sections, YouTube Search History and YouTube Watch History, cover the YouTube searches you’ve run and the YouTube videos you’ve watched. It’s strange that these two sections aren’t combined, but as before you can delete individual entries using the buttons to the side, or pause data tracking using the master toggle switch, or delete everything via the Delete activity by link on the left.
In all of these cases, you can download copies of the data that Google has on you before erasing it. To do that, you need to go back to the Data & personalisation screen, then choose Download your data. Follow the instructions on the screen to download records from some or all of the Google products you use.
Just below the download option you can pick Delete a service or your account to remove one of Google’s services from your account or wipe the account completely. The services that we can see available to delete are YouTube, Gmail, Google One, Play Games or Google Pay, so you don’t necessarily need all these to run a Google account.
We’re not quite finished because we also want to draw your attention to the Google Dashboard, which presents a lot of the same information in a different way. It gives you a comprehensive list of all the various Google products and services you’re connected to and a summary of how you’ve been using them.
If you want to know how many emails are in your Gmail account, or how many images you’ve uploaded to Google Photos, or where the place you starred most recently in Google Maps is, this page will tell you. You can click through from the Dashboard to find the same activity controls we’ve already covered.
There are other ways of restricting Google’s data slurping, though we can’t go into all of them in detail here: You can sign out of Google in your Chrome browser, for example, or turn off location tracking on your Android device. You can browse YouTube in incognito mode (which is coming to Google Maps and search too). If you want to limit tracking based on a web session or a particular device, you’ve got options.
But when it comes to finding out everything that Google has on you and deleting the stuff you don’t want it to keep, your Google account page on the web is the place to go.
Featured image: Screenshot: Gizmodo