Google collects a lot of information about its users and their activities online. Most of the people who have a Google account understand that the company collects information, but most of us would be amazed to find out how extensive that information is. Unlike some companies which have been somewhat deceptive about their information gathering practices, Google at least has usually been forthright about their activities, in keeping with their former corporate motto “don’t be evil”. Whether they succeed in that mission is a matter of opinion, but individual users do have the ability to see a lot of what Google collects about them, and even the option to get rid of at least some of it.
Why would you need to know when your Google account came into being? Well, for one thing, if you ever get locked out of your Google Account, the date you created it is one of the recovery questions you can use to regain access to the account. Accordingly, it’s worth finding out and squirreling the information away somewhere. (Probably not in one of your Google account tools, though.) In this article, I’ll show you how to find out a lot of what Google collects about you, including the creation date of your Google Account. I’ll also show you how to manage a lot of the ways that Google collects data about you.
Find the creation date of your Google Account
Most users got a Google account as a side effect of opening a Gmail account, and it is from within Gmail that you can find out when you created your Google account. The start date of your Gmail account is the same as your Google Account.
Here are the steps to find the creation date of your Google Account:
- Open Gmail and select the cog icon to access Gmail Settings.
- Select Forwarding and POP/IMAP.
- Look at the POP Download section and the first line, Status: Pop is enabled for all mail that has arrived since…
The date on that line is the date you created your Google Account. In my case it was 01/30/2008.
How to find out what Google knows about you
We will never know exactly what data Google collects as it collects so much from so many sources. The gather data from our searches, from activity on our Google accounts, from our email, even from your Gboard phone keyboard. All of these things, and many more, feed back into Google’s analytics. You can see some of what has been collected, however, which might make sobering reading.
You will need to log into your Google Account page to see what data is stored. From here you can view and change much of your data and your privacy settings.
In the Personal Info section you can see (and change) your name, age, phone number, birthday, gender, and location. You can also change what other users are allowed to see about your account; basically you can make yourself easier or harder to find online.
Select People & Sharing and then Contacts to see everyone you have ever emailed through Gmail and all your phone contacts if you use Android. You can toggle whether or not to save new contact information from your interactions with new people here.
The Data & Personalization section contains quite a bit of information. You can go down to the Activity Controls section where you can see all the searches you’ve made, your location history, your voice activity, and a lot more.
The Ad Personalization section shows how your ads are personalized. You can see what Google thinks your interests are, and you can get rid of or add information. It’s a little bit Orwellian.
If you want to download a mini dossier of what data Google holds on you, it is possible. Go back to Personal Info and scroll down to Download or transfer your content. Select Create Archive, make your choices as to what data you want to download and then create the download archive.
Control what data Google keeps about you
Now you’re well and truly shocked at just how much Google knows about you, it’s time to exercise a little control over it. You cannot turn off all data collection. After all, if a product is free, you are the product. Google only offers so much free stuff because it can make money from what we do with it. However, we can turn off elements of data collection.
The only way to completely stop Google collecting data is to stop using Google products, including Android and Google Search. Otherwise, here are a few settings to tweak:
- Navigate to the Google My Activity page.
- Select the three dot menu icon in the top right and select Activity Controls.
- Toggle off Web & App Activity and uncheck the box by Include Chrome history and activity that use Google Services.
- Scroll down and toggle off Location History.
- Select Manage Activity and delete all records of your location.
- Navigate back to Activity controls.
- Select Device Information and toggle it off and select Manage Activity to delete records.
- Select Voice & Audio Activity and toggle it off, select Manage Activity to delete records.
- Select YouTube Search History and toggle it off, select Manage Activity to delete records.
- Select YouTube Watch History and toggle it off, select Manage Activity to delete records.
- Select the Ads text link at the very bottom of the page. Toggle Ad Personalization to off.
There are a few other deeper settings you can tweak but I’ll leave those for a more detailed tutorial about Google Privacy. It’s important to know that Google isn’t the only company that collects data and that it doesn’t use it for nefarious means as far as we know. At least you now know more about what the company knows about you.
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