If you use an Android phone, the Chrome browser, or even just YouTube, you may at some point have been surprised by how much Google knows about you. If you haven’t, take a look at Google’s new My Activity feature.
Rolled out this week, the feature allows you to see the videos Google knows you’ve watched; the searches you’ve typed in ( and ‘sound search‘ too); the images you’ve looked for – and which ones you viewed; video search.
But it’s not just search: the tool also shows the map locations you’ve selected (and trips if you use that app); the items you’ve shopped for (Google’s grocery service Express is there too); and even which books and news articles you’ve read.
Each URL linked above ends in a product number. If you change the number on those, you’ll also find results for ‘Android‘, the Google Play Store, and Play Music; ‘Calendar‘, ‘Drive‘ (and Drive apps), ‘Gmail‘ and Inbox; ‘Chrome‘ and Google+; Developers, Finance – and even Google Goggles.
There are 29 Google ‘products’ in total – in fact I found a few I didn’t even know existed. If you find more, please let me know.
Journalists risking sources; sources risking themselves
Clearly for journalists the amount of information that Google holds about you presents a risk to your sources. Searches for people, images and video, books and reports that you’ve read, visits to particular locations can all identify individuals. If you’re promising whistleblowers protection, you’d better be able to back that up.
But crucially, the amount of information that Google holds about your sources presents a risk to themselves too, if their online behaviour betrays the fact that they have a connection with you.
That information may be accessed remotely through your or their account being hacked, or through law enforcement requests which they are not required to notify you about. It may be an employer.
On that front, make sure you advise your sources accordingly too.
The key thing is that you – and your source – can delete this information if you are concerned about it being out there.
(Note: there is no way of knowing whether deletion means Google does not keep some stored data. If you are working on something sensitive, best to use an engine like DuckDuckGo or IxQuick, who claim not to collect ot share search information)
How to delete what Google knows about you
Once you’re in My Activity you can delete information in a number of ways. The quickest way is to click on the 3 dots in the upper right corner and select Delete activity by…
This takes you to another screen where you can specify the parameters of what you want to delete. You can specify a date range by using the two boxes ‘after’ and ‘before’, but if you click on the first drop-down menu that normally says ‘Custom’, you can select ‘All time’.
Alternatively, if you return to the main screen you can conduct a search by either keyword or category, and then click on the 3 dots next to the search bar, and select Delete results.
To do this by category leave the search box empty but click on the plus icon underneath that says Filter by date & product and select the type of information (e.g. maps) that you want to see. Then click Delete results.