How to protect your data on Google

Greg Bortkiewicz, SAE and Digital Specialist at LCIBy Greg Bortkiewicz, Senior Account Executive & Digital Specialist

Ever since the Cambridge Analytica story broke, Facebook has been fighting fires regarding its perceived lack of action to appropriately manage its users data. (For tips about how to protect your data on Facebook, check out my recent blog post).  While Facebook certainly has a lot to answer for, it isn’t the only offender, or even the worst. Step forward Google.

Google routinely harvests huge amounts of data from its many apps and services, including search, Maps, YouTube, the Chrome web browser and Android phones. It’s only a matter of time before Google will find itself defending data collection in the same way Facebook has. Here are some tips on how you can protect your data:

Manage your Google activity

When you log in to Google, go to ‘My Account’ where you’ll find your main dashboard. Here you can manage your personal info and privacy settings to choose what is shared with Google.

The main dashboard on the Google account settings page


Click ‘Manage your Google activity’ then ‘Activity controls’. You can choose whether you want Google to have access to your web and app activity, location history, device information, voice and audio activity, and YouTube search and watch history.

For many people, there is a trade-off between sharing data and the convenience of services. For example, if you turn off location history, Google Maps will no longer store your home address and places you frequently visit. The benefit is that your movements will not be tracked.

The activity management page on a Google account

If you want a glimpse at the type of things being tracked, click on ‘Review activity’. This gives a daily breakdown of everything you did (including the exact time), where you went, what apps you used and what searchers you ran. The timeline review shows you exactly where you went on any given day, so long as your phone GPS was activated. Seeing this was enough to convince me to turn off location tracking!

Manage your ad settings

You can’t prevent Google from serving you ads, but you can decide if you want to receive personalized ads. By limiting the profile information you share and the topics you like, ad companies have less information about you and you won’t feel like you’re being stalked online.

If you want to go a step further, I highly recommend the free browser extension Ghostery. It not only blocks ads, but also trackers that lurk in the background of websites and collect information on you. Blocking ads and trackers will help restore your online privacy and make your webpages load faster.

Diversify your digital services

Google can collect so much data in part because of the sheer number of services and apps it owns. Finding alternatives is just as important as managing your account settings.

A great alternative to Chrome is Mozilla’s Firefox browser. Mozilla is a nonprofit dedicated to an open and secure Internet. Firefox comes with tracking protection and Mozilla doesn’t sell any data it collects. Even better, the latest version uses 30% less memory than Chrome and has a great design.

Google search dominates the search market, often accounting for more than 80% of searches in any given region. This is problematic as Google can skew results in favor of its own products and services, as well as having access to a huge amount of data. Those looking for an alternative should try out Duck Duck Go. This search engine never tracks or collects any search history. Again, a trade-off is you might like having search history saved because it can sometimes be more convenient. It’s up to each of us to balance convenience with privacy.

It would be extremely difficult to completely disentangle yourself from Google considering the monopoly is has online, but these few tips will get you off to a good start. I’d love to hear what other tips and tricks you have to protect your online privacy. Leave a comment below or tweet me @greg_borko.

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