If you've ever had a feeling that somebody's trailing you, you're not being paranoid. That's because Google is always one step behind. The search giant readily admits that it follows your every action -- your Web searches, site visits, watched videos, clicked ads, and location history. The search engine company claims it does this to autocomplete your searches, improve YouTube (Android, iOS) recommendations, serve ads, and get you places faster on Google Maps (Android, iOS).
If you're willing to sacrifice these expediencies, such as improved commute options in Maps and speedier results in Search (Android, iOS), for the sake of privacy, then you can turn off tracking and even delete items from your history.
First, head to My Activity, which shows you how you're tracked online, so you can better protect your privacy. Then sign in to your Google account to see a timeline of just how much of your activity the search giant has already stored. Brace yourself for a shock.
Turn off tracking
To stop Google from tracking you, open the menu button up top, then Activity controls from the drop-down menu.There you'll find six sections: Web and App Activity, Device Information, Voice and Audio Activity, YouTube Search History, YouTube Watch History, and Location History.
If you're an iPhone user, you'll only need to toggle off Web and App Activity, Location History, YouTube Search History, and YouTube Watch History. But Android phone and Android devices users may also want to switch off Device Information and Voice and Audio Activity, so that Google will no longer be able to store your mobile app info and voice, respectively, for improved results and suggestions and voice recognition.
Note: A recent AP report uncovered that the Google Maps app as well as other Google apps were still holding onto data about your whereabouts -- even after Location History was manually turned off. So to ensure that location tracking is completely turned off, you'll also have to toggle off Web and App Activity.
Browse in Incognito modeAnother option is to control your privacy on a case-by-case basis by browsing in Incognito mode, which prevents Chrome (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS) from saving your surfing activity or a record of anything you've downloaded within that session.
Delete your existing history
Then, of course, there's the matter of all the activity Google has already recorded. To delete your existing history, tap the menu button (the three vertical dots) attached to each item you want to erase and then tap Delete.
Then tap on Other Google Activity hyperlink on the left to view and erase your Location History, Youtube "Not interested" feedback, YouTube survey answers, Comments on YouTube videos, Comments on YouTube Community posts, YouTube likes and dislikes, Google Word Coach, Interests and notification subscriptions, Google Play library activity, News Preferences, Data shared for Google research studies, Gboard learned words, Google app podcast subscriptions, Google survey answers, Chrome History, and Google Assistant routines.
Stop targeted ads
Finally, you may want to stop the search engine company from serving you with targeted ads in Search and on YouTube, for example. To do this, go to the My Account page from the main drop-down menu, and then under Personal Info & Privacy, go to Ad Settings, then Manage Ad Settings. Then on the Ad personalization page, toggle "Ad personalization is ON" to OFF.
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- Google is tracking Android phone location history even when the feature is disabled
- How to stop Google from tracking your location on your mobile phone
- Dozens of iOS apps caught secretly sharing your data for profit
- Google location tracking: Turn it off for real (CNET)
- Google sued for tracking you, even when 'location history' is off (ZDNet)
- How to turn off ad personalization in your Google account (TechRepublic)