Helpdesk challenge – what does Google know about me?

It’s the biggest search engine in town, and Google can tell you everything from what’s on at your local cinema to what’s on-trend in downtown Seoul. But what’s Google got on you?

Don’t get me wrong, I like Google. I’ve chewed over the myriad concerns of consenting to its one all-inclusive privacy policy, but when push comes to shove, I still find myself using it more times a day than I can count.

But there’s the rub. The more you interact the Google, the more information you effectively give it about yourself. Every search you make, every YouTube video you watch, even the emails and calendar appointments you keep through Gmail – all of this contributes to Google’s understanding of what kind of an individual you are.

There are some handy ways of getting a snapshot of what kind of data Google holds on you, and taking control of that data yourself.

What do Google and its ad partners think you’re interested in?

To get some idea of how much data advertising networks hold on you, tools such as Google’s Ad Preferences tool will show you the assumed topic that Google thinks you’re keen on.

Search for ‘Google Ad Preferences’, then within this page click on Ads on the web. There, you’ll find a list of the subjects and products Google thinks you are interested in.

How close is it to the mark? Well, judging by my own summary, I’m interested in very little besides Computer Hardware, Software, and ‘Online Goodies’, whatever they are. Since the vast majority of my surfing and browsing is work-based, and I’m the Deputy Editor of Which? Computing, I suppose this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. I don’t come across as a particularly well-rounded chap though!

Google Demographics

Rather more hurtfully, Google has assumed that I’m between 5 and 14 years older than I actually am. Though credit where it’s due – it’s rightly assumed that I’m male.

The good news? You can remove any interest category that’s been given to you by clicking Remove.

See your Google history with Google Dashboard

Google Dashboard is a powerful tool for seeing and understanding your digital footprint. There, you’ll find a list of every YouTube video you’ve watched, searches you’ve undertaken, online chats conducted via Google and any blog posts you’ve created.

Dipping into my own account, I can look at my most recently-watched YouTube videos.

Google Watch History

No cats falling off things, I’m proud to say, but plenty of tech stuff yet again, as well as a Ronaldo header against Man Utd that I don’t mind admitting I watched on loop.

This can be useful should you wish to retrace your steps, but you might equally feel uneasy seeing such a stark reminder of your online activities.

You can select to remove data from Dashboard, and there are options for downloading your information – vital if you want to delete things from Google and still have a copy of the data for yourself.

Would you find it useful to know what information Google, or any other search giant, holds on you? Do you take steps to remove your old data from your search history? Share your opinions with us in the comments box below.

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Categories: Privacy

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6 replies

  1. When I look for products onlie I find that I am frequently bombarded with advertisementfor these items via various other websites when I next go online. Is there any way of stopping my searches from being monitored in this way and, if not, how can I block these unwanted advert?

    1. Blocking third-party cookies is a good first step in preventing behavioural advertising companies monitoring your browsing.

      In Google Chrome, through the Content settings you can choose not to accept cookies from third parties when visiting a site. This doesn’t stop sites from storing personal details and your purchase history, but it does prevent external advertising companies from gathering your data. Google’s Ad Preferences tool has options for turning off tracking.

      In Internet Explorer the same options are available via Internet Options in the Tools menu. Click on the Privacy tab and there’s a slide bar for altering the level of cookie control, from allowing anything to blocking everything.

      In Firefox, the settings are found through Tools > Options > Privacy, with an option for enabling third party cookies.

  2. I too started noticing ‘targeted’ advertising a few years ago and having discovered Google stores every key stroke you make when using it’s products, promptly stopped using Google.

    I now use ‘DuckDuckGo’ as a search engine and they promise to delete any search you have made within 2 days. No targeted adverts and a easy to use ‘settings’ page.

  3. I’ve found that installing Do Not Track Me (available on Chrome Web store) minimises the intrusion from advertising. It’s amazing to find from the log how many organisations are tracking you through features embedded in web pages. Google is at least manageable if you know where to look. Thanks for providing that info.

  4. I have just bought a USB tool on QVC which when plugged in stops companies leaving cookies etc etc
    Its called Serf Easy visit its site in the states its very impressive and works for me

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