What Google knows about you – and what you can do about it

As you use its free online services, Google builds up a profile of you in order to sell advertising. Follow our guide to discover what Google knows, and how you can opt out.

Google is best known for its search engine, but it also offers a wide range of free services like its suite of online applications that make the internet a much more productive place.

Of course, it doesn’t just offer these tools out of the goodness of its corporate heart.

In reality, the company uses these free services to collect data about the people who use them, which it then uses to sell advertising space - and advertising is where 90% of Google’s money comes from.

Most of this collected data is harmless and there’s little need to worry about it, but that’s not to say you should ignore it altogether.

If you use Google services like Google Drive, Gmail or Google Plus that require you to sign in first, it can be eye-opening to see what Google knows about you based only on what you use that service for.

In some cases, you can stop Google collecting data about what you do online and delete any existing data it may already have. You just need to know where to look.

[Read more: Privacy call for internet browsing]

Step 1: Sign into your Google account

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Google makes all of the information it knows about you available on one page, called the Google Dashboard. Open www.google.com/dashboard in your web browser (it doesn’t matter which) and sign in with your Google Account details - these are the same as your Gmail account details.


Step 2: Open your Google Dashboard

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The Google Dashboard is a long list of Google services that you’ve used at some point or another. There are too many to deal with here individually, so we’ll focus on the key ones and you can investigate the rest once you know what to look for.

The list is ordered alphabetically and each entry can be expanded to give an overview of the information it contains. Start by clicking the title of the first entry in the list, which should be Account.


Step 3: Review your Google account

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The information under Google Account shows your Gmail address, the number of applications and sites associated with that account and your account activity for the last 28 days.

The Account activity section shows the rough location (based on your IP address) of any computers you’ve used to sign into your Google Account along with the different web browsers and operating systems you’ve used.


Step 4: See which computers you’ve been using

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Click See the full list under the Account activity section to open a Devices & activity page with a list of all the different devices you’ve used to access your Google account, including the one you’re currently using. You can click each entry to see more information about it.

If there are any devices or access dates in the list you don’t recognise, it may mean your account has been hacked, so you should change your password as soon as possible by going to myaccount.google.com and clicking the Password option under the Signing in section.

Back on the Devices & activity page, click the Back button in your web browser to return to the Dashboard.


Step 5: View your location history

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Scroll down the Dashboard list to the Location History section and click View Location History. If you use an Android device, or the Google Now and Google Maps apps on an iPhone or iPad, Google may track your locations and journeys using GPS. Location History is where you can see the results of that tracking.

You can delete your location history for any particular time period using the options on the left of the page. To disable location tracking altogether, click the cog icon at the top-right of the page, choose History Settings and then click the Pause button.

Click the Back button in your web browser to return to the Dashboard.


Step 6: See your search history

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Scroll down the Dashboard list to the Search History section and click to expand it. This shows what you’ve searched for lately with various Google services, together with a summary of your most frequent searches for the last 28 days. You can see more detail for each type of search by clicking its name in the Overview section. Start by clicking Web to see more about your Google web searches.


Step 7: See your most popular searches

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You can now browse a list of every single Google web search you’ve performed when signed into your Google account. Or you can choose from the list on the left of the page to see a list of your other search types. If you click All History, you’ll see overview charts of your whole search activity, along with a Show more trends option that breaks the data down even further.

You can remove any entry in the list by selecting it and clicking the Remove items button.

To disable the search history, click the cog icon at the top-right of the page, choose Settings and then click the Pause button. Alternatively, just use your web browser’s ‘private’ browsing mode when you don’t want a particular search to be saved.

Click the Back button in your web browser to return to the Dashboard.


Step 8: Who does Google think you are?

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By far the most fascinating - and potentially converning - information Google tracks about you isn’t available from the Dashboard. Go to www.google.com/settings/ads and you’ll see the profile Google has built up about you based on your browsing habits. It uses this to display personalised ads on sites all around the internet, based on who advertisers want to target.

[Read more:  DuckDuckGo - the private way to search the web]

This profile can range from astonishingly accurate to hopelessly wrong, but remember that the information is only educated guesswork, based on your use of Google’s services. You can opt out of this tracking by clicking the two Opt out settings at the bottom of the page.


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