People these days are more and more aware of online privacy issues. Companies like Google have been making headlines all over the world for their handling of user data. Let’s just say that the stories aren’t very nice, to put it mildly.
Google, in particular, is everywhere online. They are the internet equivalent of Starbucks. The data they collect gives them chillingly accurate insights into your life and interests.
For a lot of people, this situation is as uncomfortable as having to tell the doctor the truth about how much booze drink or what you were really doing in order to strain that particular muscle.
Guess what? Google knows. They are basically the all-seeing eye.
Public and political pressure has forced companies like Google, reluctantly, to become more transparent about the data they hold. Google has finally created a tool to enable their customers to see what data Google holds and to delete it if they wish.
This data is extremely valuable to Google, so it is no surprise that the tool, called My Activity, doesn’t exactly encourage you to delete. But it can be done and in this article, we are going to provide clear step-by-step instructions on how to delete everything Google holds on you.
What data can Google hold on me?
Until recently, it was almost impossible to know exactly what user data Google was retaining. Most people didn’t bother asking and those that did couldn’t get a straightforward answer.
Now, transparency has been forced upon Google and they’ve revealed the extent of their data retention. The sort of information they hold includes:
Search History: Google stores all your search history across all of your devices on their servers. Even if you delete this search history from one device, it still retains the data elsewhere. This gives Google a forensic insight into your online habits, your interests, and many other things about your life.
Advertising Profile: Google uses its search information and other data to create an advertising profile about you. This includes data like your location, interests, age, career, relationship status, income, and physical condition. This data is used to target you with relevant advertising.
Your Location: If you have an Android phone, Google stores details of your location every time you turn your device on. This tells them not only where you are but the date and time that you are there.
Your Emails: Google keeps a record of every email you are ever sent or received and every communication you make. This includes spam and junk emails as well as emails you have deleted.
Your Photos: Google stores copies of any photos taken on your Android smartphone or stored on Google Drive. Whether you purposely upload these or not, Google has a copy.
Your Bookmarks: If you have bookmarked a website in Google Chrome or on an Android device, Google will have a record of it.
Your Google Calendar Entries: If you manage your day with Google Calendar, Google has a record of all your meetings and personal engagements.
Your YouTube Viewing Habits: Whenever you watch a video on YouTube, Google keeps a record of this. This can tell them things like your music and TV viewing habits, your religious beliefs, your political beliefs, details about your health, and even things like if you are going to be a parent.
The Apps You Use: Google retains every bit of information it can about the Android apps and Chrome browser extensions you use. This includes which apps you download, how often you use them, what time of day you use them, who you use them to communicate with, which countries you are in, and more.
And much, much more…: This list seems like a lot, but there is a vast amount of other information Google retains. This includes what Google Ads you click on, every image you search for and save, and every news article you read. All of your Google Hangouts data is recorded. They even keep things like your fitness routines if you use Google Fit. Perhaps most worrying of all, they keep a record of a lot of things you delete, including all files on Google Drive and emails on Gmail.
This is a disturbingly long list and to be honest it only scratches the surface. Even if you don’t routinely use Google services like Gmail, they will still hold data on you. Now the extent of the data Google can hold is in the public domain, it is little wonder that people are worried.
How to find out what data Google has on you
If you are concerned about what data Google holds about you, the best thing to do is to take a look for yourself. This used to be extremely complicated, but after much pressure, Google has now simplified the process.
All you have to do is visit Google’s My Activity section and sign into your Google Account. If you are doing this for the first time, Google will greet you with an introduction screen explaining why it is in your interest for Google to hold a lot of private data about you.
The page will open up into Bundle View which pulls all of the data held into one place. Alternatively, you can also choose to view it by Item View which lets you search the data by different Google features.
If you are a regular Google user, be prepared for an extremely long to list.
Is it worth backing up your Google data before deleting it?
Before deleting all of your data from Google, you might want to consider backing up some or all of it. There are several reasons why this is a good idea for some people:
- It ensures you have a copy of all your data should you need to dig out an old file or email you have long-since deleted.
- It provides an archive copy of old files allowing you to free up space on your Google Drive.
- It provides a backup of all your photos and videos logged on Google.
- It is a simple way to move data to another cloud storage facility.
The tool to use to back-up your Google data is called Google Takeout and is not too difficult to use:
1. As with Google’s My Activity tool, you will need to log into your Google account to access it.
2. Once logged in, you will see a long list of Google features with a tick-box next to them. All of these tick-boxes will be selected by default. If there are any features you don’t want to download data from, simply go down the list and untick the box.
3. At the bottom of the list is a button labeled Next Step. Click on this and you will be asked to decide how you want the backup to be delivered. The options are:
- By email
- Add to Google Drive
- Add to Dropbox
- Add to OneDrive
- Add to Box
4. You can also choose whether you want the data stored as a .zip file or a .tgz file.
5. The last option is to decide the maximum size of your archive files. Options range from 1GB to 50GB. If your backup file is larger than the size you choose, Google will break it up into multiple files.
6. Once you’ve made your choices, click the Create Archive button and your data will be downloaded.
How to delete all of your Google data
Once you have backed up your data (if you decide to), you are ready to remove all of your data from Google’s servers. After considerable public and political pressure, Google has made this process much easier than it used to be.
All you need to do is follow these simple steps:
1. Go to Google’s My Activity page again and log into your Google account.
2. Click on the option on the left-hand side of the page labeled Delete Activity by
3. Under the Delete by Date heading, it will by default say Today. Click on the down arrow and change this to All Time.
4. It will be set to delete All products by default. You can change this by selecting the down arrow if you wish.
5. At the bottom of the page, click the Delete button.
6. A small pop-up window will appear saying “Before you Delete: Your activity can make Google services more useful to you, like better commute options in Maps and quicker results in Search.” Click Ok.
7. A second pop-up window will invite you to read Google deletion policies and warn you that “Similar data may still be saved in your account from other Google services, like Chrome History and Location History. To see and control other activity, go to the options menu at the top right and choose Other Google activity.” Click Delete.
8. You have now deleted your data, but another pop-up window will appear saying “Control what data gets saved to your account with your activity controls.” Click Close and all of your Google data has been deleted. (You can find out more about this option later in the article.)
You have now deleted all of your Google archive data. If you search under Bundle View or Item View you should now only see a message saying No Activity.
How to delete additional information held separately
But we are not quite done yet. Some other data such as your location history, device information, Google Chrome search history is held separately.
You can access and delete this data by clicking on the Other Google Activities tab on the left-hand side of the Google My Activity homepage. It is quite a long list and unfortunately, there is no quick way to wipe this data other than to work your way down the list.
Some things offer a delete button directly on the Other Google Activities page. Others require you to view the data and then select either the delete button or a dustbin icon to delete the data from Google’s servers.
How to stop Google collecting your data in the future
If you want to stop Google from collecting information about you in the future, you can also do that through the My Activity page. It is not technically possible to disable Google’s data collection permanently, but you can choose to pause it. To do this, follow these few simple steps:
1. Click on the Activity Control tab on the left-hand side of the My Activity homepage.
2. This will give you a short list of activities comprising:
- Web and App data
- Location History
- Device Information
- Voice and Audio Activity
- YouTube search history
- YouTube watch history
3. Next to each one is a slider which will be colored blue and set to the right if active. To pause data collection simply Slide the switch left. The slider will turn grey.
4. A pop-up will appear asking you to confirm the decision. To accept, click the Pause button twice.
Once you have paused all of the features, Google will no longer store this data about you.
Other ways to delete Google data
If you just want to tidy up your Google data and not delete everything, there are a few different ways you can do this:
Delete Individual items: Individual deletions are a popular way of removing any embarrassing or compromising data Google might hold. To delete individual items, go to the My Accounts homepage and use the search box in the center of the page to look for individual records. Select the one you want to remove and click More followed by Delete. After confirming you want to delete this item, it will be permanently removed.
Delete data bundles: It is also possible to search through Google’s data and remove bundles of data on related activities. To do this, click on Filter By Date and then enter a search term and a specific date range. Just click on More followed by delete to remove a bundle completely. You will need to confirm your deletion before it is processed.
Search and Filter: You can search for specific content in specific time ranges to delete groups of data too. Again, you will need to click on Filter By Date and then enter a search term and a specific date range. You might be asked to select which Google features to search. When the list of results appears, you can either click on individual items to delete or click delete results to remove everything. With both options, you will have to confirm your deletion before it is processed.
How to delete Google data on Android devices
If you want to delete all of your Google history from an Android device, you will be disappointed to learn that the methods outlined above are not the answer.
But there is another simple tool that you can use instead. It is an app called History Eraser – Privacy Clean and it can be downloaded for free from the Google Play store.
History Eraser is a brilliant app. It allows you to erase the complete history of all individual apps with a single swipe of the screen. The app doesn’t require you to have any administrative privileges or root permission to use it and it is a great way to free up space on your device and protect your privacy.
The History Eraser app works with everything. It will delete your Google search and map history, browser history, call logs, text messages, download history, app cache files, and a lot more besides.
It is worth remembering that this data is only deleted on your device. You will still need to remove it from the Google servers using the method above too.
The only real downside to the app is that in the free version there are a lot of pop-up adverts. You can choose to download the pro version for $1.99, which gets rid of these. However, as most people only use it from time to time, they usually prefer to put up with a few adverts.
Once you have cleaned up your Android device, you might want to consider installing a security-focused Android OS. Some of these can automatically get rid of all the data Google sends to itself. You can find out more here.
Are there any drawbacks to deleting your Google history?
There are some consequences to deciding to delete your Google history. As the pop-ups that appear throughout the process will warn you, Google does personalize your search results based on your previous search activity.
This means that if you use some websites regularly, they automatically appear higher up your search results than others you don’t. Once you delete your data, this will not happen and your favorite sites might end up coming lower down in your Google searches.
Google also uses your data to personalize the adverts you see. This is intended to make you more likely to click on the ads. This means you might see more ads selling things you aren’t interested in.
Most people are willing to put up with these minor inconveniences for the sake of greater online privacy. But it is important to be aware of them before proceeding to delete your data.
Will this make me invisible to Google?
No. If you have a Google account and still intend to use Google products and devices, then it is almost impossible to hide from Google completely. By following the processes outlined above, you can minimize the amount the data Google holds about you. You can even go back and delete everything regularly. But Google will still be collecting some data about you.
If you want to be invisible from Google, then you need to start switching to other products. There are more privacy-conscious options out there.
Instead of using Google as your search engine, why not opt for a more privacy-friendly one like DuckDuckGo or StartPage? Instead of Gmail, why not choose a more private webmail service like ProtonMail? Instead of Google Chrome, why not use a web browser like Firefox?
None of these suggestions will keep you off the Google radar completely. But they are all a step in the right direction.
There is no getting away from the fact that Google is hungry for your data. It’s how it makes money and Google makes a lot of money. Their parent company Alphabet had revenue of $39.28 billion in the 4th quarter of 2018. And you thought Jeff Bezos was wealthy!
But with public awareness and demand for online privacy growing, there are now ways to get your data out of Google’s clutches.
In this article, we have explained how to delete all of your Google data using the Google My Activity tool. It is fairly straightforward, but there are a few different things you have to do to clean up everything. We have given clear step-by-step guides on how to do everything to make the process as simple as possible.
Have you tried to delete all your Google data? How did you find the process? Did you encounter any problems with their tools and if so how did you resolve them? Do you have any additional tips or advice for our readers? Is there anything we have missed out?
We always welcome comments and questions from all our readers and strive to answer everyone. But if you do have an urgent issue or concern, your best bet is to contact Google directly.