Many consumers in recent years have been looking for ways to limit their online exposure. One way to take a proactive approach in order to protect yourself and take control of your personal information is to minimize how companies and advertisers collect and store that information.
You can choose to delete your Google Activity and limit how much of your online data is allowed to be collected.
“Doesn’t using the Google Incognito function and deleting my browser history keep my data safe?”
The answer to that is not completely. People often have a misconception that by deleting their web search history periodically, this will be enough to keep them private and safe. This is not the case. When using an incognito tab, your anonymity is still exposed by your ISP and information given major corporations who are willing to pay for the data being collected.
Don’t look so surprised. Google’s practices can be as shady as their algorithm though there are other alternatives out there that will prioritize your privacy. One of these would be DuckDuckGo, which doesn’t track your online movement. I prefer to use Brave, myself. It is a secure browser that allows you to swap between search engines at your leisure.
However, it is likely that you will continue to make use of Google as your search engine of choice and as such may wish to get a better handle on removing some, or all, of your Google Activity. Just know that simply deleting all of your web-browsing activity doesn’t get rid of every bit of information Google has gathered on you. You’ll need to also delete a few things separately such as your maps activity if you’ve ever allowed Google to track your location.
Even if you were to delete every bit of your activity, Google keeps records of how you used its web browser. This means when you search it’ll remember what you’ve searched and when. It does not, however, remember what it is you actually searched for. According to Google, it will delete all of your data associated with your account after you delete it.
Those of you not wishing to completely delete your Google account should look toward other options. It is these options which I will touch on in this article.
Managing Your Google Activity Controls
Permanently clearing Google history will help in accomplishing your goal of maintaining security over your online identity but you’ll want to get a grip on personalizing your Activity Controls as well. Google Activity will continue to keep records of your search and browsing history unless you choose to disable them. Once disabled Google will no longer be able to collect and store that data from you in the future.
We’ll begin with turning off the Google Activity that you do not wish to have saved. You can be specific or just remove it all in your quest to optimize your online security. This will ensure the specified information will not be tracked. It’s an incredibly easy task and can be accomplished by the following:
- Open up your browser and go to Activity controls.
- Toggle the switch to the right of each activity you don’t want tracked/saved.
- When toggled, you’ll receive a popup window where you’ll need to confirm your choice by selecting Pause.
If you choose to delete all of your browsing history, all of your saved passwords will be wiped too. Make sure that you remember your passwords before proceeding. If you happen to have a Password Manager application like LastPass already set up, this will not affect it.
Before I cover how you’ll go about deleting all of your currently collected Google Activity, I’ll go over how to archive it for personal use. So if for some reason or another, you’d like to have a chance to download your Google search history, continue on to the next section.
Downloading Your Google Search/Browser History
If you feel you’ll want to look back fondly on some of your past browsing escapades, Google provides you with a way to hold on to your search history. To procure an archived list of your browsing history so that you can always have access to the data, you’ll need to:
- Sign into your Google Account. From the main page, on the menu to the left select Data & personalization.
- Scroll down the page until you find the “Download, delete, or make a plan for your data” section. Click on “Download your data”.
- You’re taken to a page where you’ll need to select which data you want to include in the archive download. By default, all options are toggled on. If you’d like, there is a Select None button that will deselect all of the options making it easier if you only wish to download a smaller amount of data. When you’re happy with your selections, click Next.
- Choose what format you’d like your archive to be downloaded in. Your options are “File type” (either .zip or .tgz), “Archive size” (ranging from 1GB to 50GB), and “Delivery method” (provided options in the image).
Depending on what services you have connected to your Google Account, you will find your data archive waiting for you at the delivery method of choice. It is here where you have the option of downloading the file to your PC (or Mac).
Now onto the deletion process.
Deleting Your Google Browser History
You do this by:
- Launching the Google Chrome browser from your PC. Ensure that you are logged into your Google account.
- At the top right, open the Get More/Settings menu by clicking on the three vertical dot icon.
- Click History from the menu (and History again from the additional menu). You could also click More tools and choose Clear browsing data… or avoid step 2 and simply press CTRL+Shift+DEL. If you choose either of the latter two options, skip step 4.
- On the left side of the screen, select Clear browsing data. A window will open in a new tab.
- The window will provide you with two tabs, “Basic” and “Advanced”. The “Basic” tab will display three options while “Advanced” gives you a few more. If you want to perform a deep scrub of your browser history, you’ll want to head over to the “Advanced” tab and select all of the menu options that apply.
- There is also a drop-down menu labeled “Time range” which allows you to select how much history you want deleted. Selecting “the beginning of time” of will delete everything.
- Once all of the boxes you want to delete have been checked, click Clear browsing data.
Deleting Your Google Search History
Deleting your search history is surprisingly not the same thing as deleting your browser history. In order to perform this action:
- Make sure you are logged in to your Google account and head to My Activity.
- On the left side menu, select Delete activity by to take you to a page where you can delete your Google history by topic or product.
- Click the drop down below “Delete by date” and select All time to delete all of your browsing information.
- Click on the Delete button to confirm.
You can also choose to select specific items or activities instead of all of them by using the other drop down menus provided. Browse by day or product from the “Delete activity by” page or search for specific items using the search bar on the “My Activity” page. If you head into “Other Google activity” you’ll see all of the individual activity that Google tracks. You can click on Manage Activity for most of these if you want to get a bit more detail. You can also choose to delete the information gathered for each of these activities from their individual pages.
At this point, your PC (or Mac) Google browsing history is far safer than when you began, but what about your phones and tablets? Deleting your Google activity permanently, including your mobile devices, will definitely help you improve your online privacy.
Deleting Your Android & iOS Device Google Search History
Follow these steps in order to obliterate your Google search history from your smartphone or tablet:
- While on your Android device, launch the Chrome app and go to myactivity.google.com. If using an iOS device, you can get to the site through the Safari app as well.
- Tap on the Choose more icon (three vertically stacked horizontal lines) and select Delete Activity by (as seen above).
- Just below the “Delete by Date” section, tap the drop down arrow and select All Time to delete it all.
- Tap on the Delete button, and a warning popup will appear. Tap OK to completely delete your Android Google search history.
Google has pretty much taken over the internet at this point. It is now up to the individual to make sure that information that they do not want out in public is secured. By using the settings in google itself it is possible to limit at least some of the privacy invasion issues, so it is a good place to start.