How to Change Your Google Privacy Settings

Privacy settings cog icon, screwdriver, desktop computer and a phone showing map on a light background
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How to Change Your Google Privacy Settings: A Summary

Google collects users’ personal data across websites and apps to provide personalized ads and other content. While this has its perks, access to such intimate information gives the company the power to influence our behavior and opinions. Privacy experts have warned that Google may know us better than we know ourselves.

Google’s data collection practice is so invasive that the company violates its users’ privacy on a daily basis. If you wish to take charge of your Google privacy settings, we recommend making these changes:

  • Disable web and activity tracking
  • Disable location tracking
  • Disable YouTube activity tracking
  • Stop targeted ads and search results
  • Switch from Google Chrome to a more secure browser

To get started with these changes, go to your Google Account page and navigate to Data & Privacy on the left menu.

If you want to learn more about Google’s privacy settings and get step-by-step instructions, read on!

If you use Google frequently, you may have noticed that the adverts you’re served usually match your recent search terms. This is because Google makes money through targeted advertising.

Google monitors what you do online and provides you with personalized ads and search results; you’re served content you’re most likely to click. While this can be useful, it also puts your privacy at risk.

The amount of personal info Google gathers is staggering. For example, when you use Maps, you give Google access to your live location. Do you watch YouTube a lot? Your search history can reveal what you’re interested in.

Google has so much data on you that the company can, to a certain extent, predict, shape, and even change your behavior and opinions.

Are you worried about your privacy? This article will show you how to take charge of your Google privacy settings. You can limit Google’s access to your data by following the step-by-step instructions below.


Google Privacy Concerns

We use Google services for everything.

Google Meet lets employees join meetings from home. Kids hand in assignments via Google Classroom. University students use Google Scholar for academic research.

We watch YouTube videos on Android phones and depend on Google Calendar and Maps to make our lives easier. You may even have a Google Assistant device in your home.

Our dependence on Google’s services is staggering. In exchange for letting us use its products, Google gets to know us intimately by collecting data about us and what we do online.

Do you know Google can monitor you even when you’re not using its services? Most websites have hidden Google trackers, which means Google can track you across almost all the websites you visit.

Is your data safe with Google? What’s the cost of our dependence on this tech giant?

Privacy violations

Privacy violations iconGoogle knows everything you do online — every click, every website you visit, every email you’ve ever sent.

Sometimes, we willingly allow others to peek into our privacy, for example, when we visit a doctor or go through airport security. However, we do not consciously consent to let Google in on the most intimate aspects of our lives. Still, this happens, and Google may share your private data with the highest bidder.

Not only does Google mislead us when getting our consent to be tracked online, but it’s also impossible to tell just how much data the company collects and what happens to this information.

Cookies, trackers, and ads

Cookies trackers and ads iconGoogle generates its revenue primarily from targeted advertising. Using the morsels of data collected from cookies and trackers, Google can create detailed profiles of its users.

By using Google’s services, you indirectly consent to your data being collected. This data is often shared with advertisers. It is worrying that we can’t see where this data ends up or which companies have access to it.

Even when you use Incognito mode on your browser to avoid cookies and trackers, it turns out that Google still collects data. In 2020, Google was sued for tracking users even in Incognito mode.

Social sorting

Social sorting iconWhy does it matter if Google builds profiles on us?

All the data that Google collects provides the company with valuable behavioral information. There are patterns in our behavior that give away a lot of personal information: who we interact with, what we’re interested in, what we like to buy, and even how we think politically. Sociologist David Lyon calls this “social sorting.”

The more Google knows, the more it can control. By tracking your finances and showing you the right ads, Google can influence what you buy. By tracking the websites you visit, comments you like on social media, and YouTube videos you watch, Google can push your political views in a particular direction.

Access to this data also allows discrimination. Insurance companies have been found to offer higher rates to “at-risk customers.” How do they know someone’s at risk? Because Google sells off our medical information.

In countries like China, social sorting has created a surveillance nightmare. And, if Google goes unchecked, we’re not far off.

Ties to FBI and NSA

Surveillance iconGoogle has close ties to American intelligence services: the FBI and the NSA. Leaked documents show Google’s cooperation with the PRISM surveillance program, which grants the NSA access to data from non-US citizens without a warrant.

There are concerns about Google handing over information to the US government. Since the US is part of the five eyes coalition, this could be detrimental to privacy.

The US Congress has failed to take action to limit Google’s ability to vacuum up truckloads of information on its users. Google virtually regulates itself on privacy issues.


Accessing Google’s Privacy Settings

Google’s privacy policy changes from time to time. A privacy policy is an agreement between you and a company designed to provide information about how the company collects, uses, stores, and shares your data. While it may seem tedious to read, Google’s privacy policy contains valuable information about its privacy settings.

The privacy settings and controls for Google services are in one place, and they’re easy to find — if you know where to go! The first thing you need to do is visit Google’s privacy page. We explain how to find the different Google privacy settings below.

Here’s how you get there:

  1. Visit the Google Account page.
  2. Sign in with your Google account details.
  3. Screenshot of Google account settings, sign in
  4. Click on “Manage your data & privacy” or “Data & privacy” on the left side menu.
  5. Screenshot of Google account settings, Data and Privacy

You are now in the main Data & Privacy menu and can make various changes. We will go into some specifics below. Before updating your Google privacy settings, we recommend doing a privacy checkup:

  1. From your main Google account page, click “Take Privacy Checkup.”
  2. Screenshot of Google account settings, Data and Privacy

You can now review your Google history settings, ad settings, how your phone numbers are used, and more.

Alternatively, a good place to start is the Security page. Here’s how you can access the menu and see which options are available to you:

  1. From your main Google Account page, click on the “Security” tab in the left side menu.
  2. Screenshot of Google account settings, Data and Privacy

On the Security page, you can tweak several settings, including your password, 2-step verification, decide what third-party apps have access to your account data, and much more.

You can also see which devices you’ve used to sign in to your Google accounts and any recent security activity. Checking these settings and updating your password regularly is a good security measure.

Downloading your data

Wondering what information Google has on you? On the Data & Privacy page in your account, you can get insight into the information Google keeps on you. You can even download this data.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Scroll down on the Data & Privacy page to download or delete your data.
  2. Click “Download your data.”
  3. Screenshot of Google account settings, Download your data
  4. You are now in the “Google Takeout” section.
  5. Select the data you want to download.
  6. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click “Next step.”
  7. Screenshot of Google account settings, Takeout
  8. You can now choose how you wish to receive your data and how often.
  9. Screenshot of Google account settings, Data delivery method
  10. Click “Create export.”
  11. Screenshot of Google account settings, Export data progress
  12. Click “Download” to see your data.

You can now see what personal information Google has collected on you. Once the file is created, you can access it for a week.


What Google Privacy Settings Can You Change?

You can change your Google privacy settings to protect your data. Head to the Data & privacy section on your Google Account page to get started.

We will go over the most important privacy settings below.

Web & app activity

If you only change one privacy setting, let it be this one.

Have you noticed that you’re offered suggestions when you start typing a search term into Google? These suggestions are based on an analysis of your profile.

Every time you use the Chrome browser, Google monitors the websites you visit and how you use the app — every click is registered. Even if you use the Google search engine with a different browser, like Firefox or Safari, Google still keeps track of the things you search for and integrates information from other apps and devices.

Do you want to limit Google’s invasive data collection? Here’s what you can do:

  1. Go to “Data & Privacy” on the Google Account page.
  2. Scroll down to “History settings” and click “Web & App Activity.”
  3. Screenshot of Google account settings, History settings
  4. Click “Turn Off” in “Activity Controls.”
  5. Screenshot of Google account settings, web and app activity
  6. A window will open. Click “Pause.”
  7. Screenshot of Google account settings, web and app activity pause

A window will pop up, confirming that the setting is off. If you want to delete previously saved data (we recommend you do this), click “Delete Old Activity.” You’ll be directed to select what time frame and particular Google products to check for saved data.

Location history

If you’re privacy conscious, changing your location settings should be a priority. Google uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to track you, sometimes even when you’re not actively using Google Maps. The company gathers so much location data that it can predict where you’re going and whether you are walking, biking, or driving.

Google collects this information to build a detailed profile of you. By analyzing your usual routes, Google knows where you live, where you work, where you drop your kids off at school, and what bars or restaurants you like to go to. This information is useful to advertising companies.

Here’s how to change the settings:

  1. Go to the “Data & Privacy” section of your Google Account page.
  2. Scroll to “History settings” and click “Location History.”
  3. Screenshot of Google account settings, Location history
  4. In Activity Controls, click “Turn off.”
  5. Screenshot of Google account settings, location history
  6. A window will open. Click “Pause.”
  7. Screenshot of Google account settings, Location history pause

When you pause this feature, Google stops tracking your location via the sites, apps, and devices you’re signed in on.

When you receive the confirmation that history tracking is off, Google allows you to delete your old location data. If you choose this option, a new page opens up, showing you the places you’ve been through the years. At the bottom of the screen, you’ll see a bin icon. Click it to delete all your previously stored location data.

YouTube history

YouTube, owned and operated by Google, has over 2 billion users. Google records every video you watch and search for, from vlogs by your favorite influencers to instructional cooking videos.

The company uses this data to create “more personalized experiences across Google services.” Any YouTube search you enter — which can reveal a lot about who you are, your interests, and your beliefs — will automatically ripple across all Google services.

While it’s nice to get recommended videos of things you’re interested in, anyone possessing such personal information has the power to influence you.

More often than not, you’re pushed towards more radical content. This usually happens without you even realizing it. Kids and teenagers are especially susceptible to this.

Here’s how you can manage your YouTube history:

  1. Go to the “Data & Privacy” page in your Google account.
  2. Scroll to “History settings” and click “YouTube History.”
  3. Screenshot of Google account settings, YouTube history
  4. In “Activity Controls,” click “Turn Off.”
  5. Screenshot of Google account settings, YouTube history
  6. A new window will open. Click “Pause.”
  7. Screenshot of Google account settings, YouTube history pause

This will stop Google from tracking your YouTube activity. Google allows you to delete your YouTube history when you pause tracking. You can also delete your YouTube history directly from the website or app.

Stop targeted ads and personalized search results

Google collects information on you with the purpose of selling this to advertising companies. These companies then serve personalized ads.

By analyzing your spending patterns and interests, they will know you can afford a new pair of sneakers and serve you with ads. This makes people vulnerable to excessive shopping.

The type of things you purchase, for example, medication or pregnancy products, can also give a lot of sensitive information away.

If you want Google to limit targeted advertisements, here’s how to change the settings:

  1. Go to “Data & Privacy” on your Google Account page.
  2. Scroll to “Ad Settings” and click “Ad Personalization.”
  3. Toggle off the blue control.
  4. Google ad personalization settings, slider highlighted
  5. Confirm your choice by clicking “Turn Off.”
  6. Screenshot of Google account settings, Ad personalization turn off

You can also stop Google from showing you personalized results when you use the search engine. Here’s how.

  1. Go to “Data & Privacy” on your Google Account page.
  2. Scroll to “Personal results in Search” and click “On.”
  3. Toggle off the blue control.
  4. Screenshot of Google account settings, Personal results in search

Personalized search results are now turned off.

Voice and audio activity

If you use Google Home or any other voice-controlled Google assistant, there’s a good chance that Google is recording voice and audio activity.

Don’t want Google to save these recordings? Here’s how to change this setting.

  1. Go to “Data & Privacy” on your Google Account page.
  2. Scroll to “History Settings” and click “Web & App Activity.”
  3. Screenshot of Google account settings, History settings
  4. In the “Activity Controls” window, ensure the box that says “Include voice and audio activity” is unchecked.
  5. Screenshot of Google account settings, Voice and audio activity

This will prevent Google from creating recordings.


Extra Caution: Additional Changes to Make

You might consider some additional safety measures to further limit the amount of personal data Google can gather:

  • Get rid of Google Chrome. While Chrome is a fast and easy-to-use browser, it’s a privacy nightmare. There are many Google alternatives that are just as good, if not better, such as DuckDuckGo.
  • Take a look at the Inactive Account Manager. It might be a bit morbid to consider, but with the amount of personal information companies like Google collect about users, have you ever wondered what happens to this data after we die? The Inactive Account Manager lets you determine what will happen to your account after a set period of complete inactivity. You can also set up to share your account with someone you trust.

Final Thoughts: Protecting Your Privacy

We rely on Google’s services, and while it’s convenient, its reach across the internet is pervasive. It’s almost impossible to prevent Google from mining your data.

Changing your Google privacy settings, as we directed above, will reduce your digital footprint to a certain extent. There are other ways to protect your privacy.

Ever thought about spreading your web searches across different search engines? This limits Google’s ability to build a detailed personal profile on you. You can also use different browsers for various purposes. For example, you can have a work browser and a private browser.

Another way to safeguard your privacy online is using a VPN (Virtual Private Network). A VPN acts like an intermediary between you and the internet by encrypting your connection and routing it through a server. We recommend using a reliable VPN provider like NordVPN.

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If you want to cut ties with Google, we have a detailed article on how to delete your Gmail account.

It’s also important to protect your privacy on social media. We have in-depth articles on how to navigate the privacy settings on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.

How to Change Your Google Privacy Settings: Frequently Asked Questions

Are you wondering how to optimize your Google privacy settings? Do you have concerns about how much Google knows about you? Check out the FAQ section below for some quick answers.

Google makes money by selling your data to advertising companies. This means you get a more personalized version of the internet, with recommendations and ads all targeted towards you.

This might seem nice, but there are risks:

  • The scale of Google’s data collection is invasive: every click, every website, and every app is registered.
  • There is no way to know what happens to this data and where it ends up.
  • Google has the power to influence our behavior, from what we buy to our political views.

You can learn how to change your Google privacy settings in the article above.

Google keeps all of its privacy controls in one place. Here’s how you get there:

  1. Visit your Google Account page.
  2. Sign in to your Google account.
  3. Click on “Data & Privacy” on the left side menu.

You can now run a Privacy Checkup, check your security settings, and stop Google from showing targeted ads and search results. We also recommend disabling Web & Activity tracking as well as YouTube and Location history tracking.

To change Google location settings, go to the main privacy page in your Google Account.

  1. Scroll on the “Data & Privacy” page to “History Settings.”
  2. Click “Location History.”
  3. In “Activity Controls,” click “Turn Off.”
  4. A new window will open. Click “Pause.”

Now, Google won’t be able to track your location.

To manage which third parties get access to your Google data, follow these steps:

  1. Scroll on the “Data & Privacy” page to “Apps and Services.”
  2. Click “Third-party apps with account access.”
  3. Remove the apps you don’t want Google to exchange data with.
Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. She has broad experience developing rigorous VPN testing procedures and protocols for our VPN review section and has tested dozens of VPNs over the years.