Google has joined other technology companies on the privacy hot seat over the past year, with sometimes-troubling revelations about how the company handles user data and also criticism of how clearly it communicates with consumers.
There are a number of simple steps you can take to protect your privacy and security on Google’s products and services. Note that the layout and description Google uses for some of the settings below has changed slightly in recent months.
Give Chrome a Privacy Tuneup
When you log in to Chrome and sync with your Google Account, your browsing data are stored on Google’s servers and linked with your account. That includes the websites you go to, your bookmarks, and your saved passwords.
However, says Robert Richter, program manager for privacy and security testing at Consumer Reports, “If you worry about your privacy, you may also want to consider a different browser.” (Firefox, Brave, and Opera are all marketed as privacy-enhancing options.)
Stop Google From Using Credit Card Data
Google has been trying to find ways to tell advertisers how well their online ads translate into real-world consumer purchases. One tool Google uses is Mastercard credit card data.
Stop Location Tracking for Real This Time
Google has a setting called Location History. The description used to read: “With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored. When you turn off Location History for your Google Account, it’s off for all devices associated with that Google Account.”
How to turn it off: Go to the Google Search home page > Click “Settings” > Your data in Search > Scroll down to “Google-wide controls” > See all Activity Controls > If the “Location History” toggle appears in blue, click on it, then hit “Pause.” Then do the same for “Web & App Activity.”
Limit Data Sharing With Other Sites and Services
There are a number of reasons you might want to give third-party apps and services access to your data from your Google account. You may want to share your contacts with Twitter or LinkedIn, or give an app like Evernote access to files in Google Drive. You can also use Google Sign-in to log in to some apps and services instead of creating new accounts.
Protect Your Account From Hackers
One of the simplest ways to create roadblocks for hackers is to turn on two-factor authentication. Once you do that, Google will send you a verification code—typically via a text message—to confirm your identity anytime you try to log in to your account from an unverified location, device, or browser.
Delete Your Activity History
If you’ve been feeling guilty about neglecting your diary, you can rest easy: Google keeps one for you. Your “My Activity” page includes a detailed list of places you’ve been, websites you’ve gone to, the apps you’ve used on your phone, and your search history, along with minute-by-minute time stamps for all this activity.
How to delete it: Go to the Google Search home page > Click “Settings” > Your data in Search > Google Activity > Click “Delete activity by” on the left-hand side > Select “All Time” from the menu under “Delete by date” > Delete.