Everyday billions of people get on their designated internet connected devices and use Google services such as Maps, Gmail, YouTube and its good old search engine function. Each time they do, they are sharing information about themselves with Google and the Big G in turn shares it with advertisers. That's how they make their money off all their free services. Of course, while the fact that Google remembers all your haphazard and whimsical searches may seem scary, it does ultimately help the user in most cases. Google uses the information it collects on you to generate search results that have been filtered according to your interests, yet there still remains an option to opt out of it all.

google is watching

How to Check Your Google History

Through a little light digging around the depths of Google, users can find a treasure trove of information about themselves. Also, for those rare families who still use one central computer, you can learn a whole treasure trove of information about your family and what your 13-year-old has really been doing on the internet all those hours.

To check your Google history, follow these steps:

  1. Go to https://www.google.com/settings/personalinfo.

  2. Log in, if you are not already

  3. Scroll down the page to the Account Tools section and select Account History

From here you will have access to:

  • Search and Browsing History - The main area of interest

  • Places You Go - Your history with Google Maps

  • Information from Your Devices - Stores contacts, apps and calendar events from phones and tablets

  • Your Voice Searches and Commands - Stored from using the "OK Google" app.

  • Videos You Searched for on YouTube

  • Videos You Watched on YouTube

The good majority of these will be paused, meaning they are not storing data. For example, searches, YouTube searches and YouTube watches were the only active ones on my account.

From Search and Browsing History, you can go in and see every Google search done on that particular Google account that you logged in with, no matter the device they used. You can also remove searches to hide them from other snoopers or to stop them from spawning unwanted ads.

google interests

How to Check Your Interests

Aside from storing your searches, Google also generalizes your interests to better generate ads target you for ads. It also stores personal information like age and gender to give advertisers an idea of your demographic.

At the very bottom of the Account History page, there is an oft-overlooked Related Settings section. Click on Ads and it will show your demographic information as well as your interests. All of which are removable if you really hate having air travel ads from that trip you took six years ago. Interestingly enough, if you want ads for a specific interest, they also allow you to add it to your interests.

Why look at your interests? Take, for example, you are a writer like me. You do Google searches all the time to write more accurate articles for clients so occasionally you get interests that don't really pertain to you at all. You have to write an article about traveler's diarrhea and suddenly you are getting all these very awkward ads for anti-diarrheals, so that is definitely an interest you want to remove, although it will be generalized under medication. Hover over the particular interest and it will give you the option to remove it.

How to Opt Out

Don't fancy how much Google knows about you? Well, there is an option to opt out of all the targeted ads. At the very bottom of the Ad Settings page, you are given the option to Opt Out of Interest-Based Ads.

Be warned though, you will likely end up seeing way more annoying ads that have nothing to do with you at all. It all depends on how much you abhor ads that are custom detailed to you. Would you rather see targeted, relevant ads or ads about men's suits when you are neither a man nor an avid suit-wearer?

Alternatively, if you are happy with your set interests, you can also return to the Account History page and set everything to pause. It will no longer gather new information and you can set your own interests from the Ads page.

In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives
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