Most of us have come to accept the fact that pretty much everything we do online is tracked and recorded.
And as the world’s biggest company, Google probably holds more data about us than anyone else – allowing the search giant to provide advertisers with detailed profiles of its users.
But have you ever wondered exactly what Google really knows about you?
In theory, your age, your gender, your interests, your search habits and your location history – along with any information you have included in your Google+ profile – should provide quite a comprehensive portrait.
However, depending on what permissions and access you have given Google at any given time, this picture could have been heavily distorted.
Here’s how to find out exactly who Google thinks you are:
Visit your account page
Open a browser and go to your account page by typing https://myaccount.google.com/ into the search bar.
You will need to make sure you are logged into your Google account to do this. If you’re not logged in, click on the circle in the top right-hand corner of the screen and enter your sign-in details.
Many people don’t realize they have a Google account, but if you use any of Google’s services – such as Gmail, Hangouts, Drive or Calendar – then use these account credentials to log in.
Which devices have access to your account?
Over the years, you may have logged into your Google account from many devices, so it’s worth checking which still ones still have access and removing any you no longer use from the list.
Click the “Sign-in & security” tab and scroll down to “Device activity & notifications”. Here it will show you a list of “Recently used devices”, with information on when they were last used to access your account.
If there are any devices on the list that you no longer use, click on them and then click the “Remove” button.
This will sign you out of your Google account and any connected apps on that device.
Which apps are connected to your account?
You can also use the “Sign-in & security” tab to keep track of which apps and sites you have approved to connect to your account and remove ones you no longer use or trust.
Scroll down to the “Connected apps & sites” section and click on “Manage apps” to see which apps are connected to your account.
For any, you no longer use, click on them and then click the “Remove” button.
You can also use this section to check which passwords from Chrome and Android are saved with Google Smart Lock, and remove any you no longer use.
What search data does Google hold on me?
Now comes the juicy stuff. If you want to know what search data Google holds on you, go back to your account home page (/) and click on “Personal info & privacy”.
Scroll down to “Activity controls” and under “Your searches and browsing activity” click “Manage activity”.
In the top right-hand corner of the “Insights” box, click the arrow next to “last week” and select “all time”.
This will give you a chronological list of everything you’ve searched for on any device, provided you were logged into your Google account at the time.
You can go through and delete specific searches. If you want to stop Google from recording your searches, go back to the “Personal info & privacy” page and under “Activity controls” untoggle “Your searches and browsing activity”.
Google warns that passing this setting will prevent products like Google Now and Google+ from using your web and app activity to improve their suggestions and updates and provide personalized content.
What does Google know about where I have been?
Many Google apps now use location information to personalize the experience for the user. As a result, Google probably has a fairly good idea where you’ve been.
If you want to know exactly what location data Google holds on you, go to the “Personal info & privacy” tab, and under “Places you go” click on “Manage activity”.
This will bring up a map of where you have been with your signed-in devices, with red dots representing locations you have visited. It may also show your home and work addresses if you have provided this information.
Clicking on any of the red dots will bring up more information on when you have visited that location, routes you traveled and places you stayed, along with any photos you took along the way.
To delete any of these records, just click on the dustbin icon in the corner of the “Timeline” panel.
You can also prevent Google from recording this information by going back to the “Personal info & privacy” page and untoggle “Places you go”.
Once again, Google warned that this limits the functionality of some Google products over time, such as Google Maps and Google Now.
Who does Google think I am?
A good way to find out who Google thinks you are is to check what information it uses to serve you ads.
You can do this by going back to the “Personal info & privacy” page, scrolling down to Ads settings and clicking “Manage ad settings”.
Here you can see what Google has identified as your gender and age, and a list of any interests Google has associated with your profile.
You can edit these interests, if you want to see more relevant ads, or delete them all if you’d rather Google didn’t try to tailor your ad experience.
However, Google says that the ads you see may still be based on your general location (such as city or state) or recent searches.
Download your data
Finally, you can make a copy of the content in your account at any time, and use it for another service or just for your personal records.
Under “Personal info & privacy”, scroll down to “Control your content” and under “Download your data” click “Create archive”.
This will take you through to a page where you can choose which data to include, and then get a copy emailed to you as a zip file.
Google warns that this may take a long time (hours or possibly days) to create, but that it will email you when the file is ready.