If you aren’t aware of it by now, Google and other online services typically store a frightening amount of your data. I’ve covered most of that under “What Does Google Know About Me?” so now let’s find out how we can get rid of all that data by deleting our Google account activity.
Deleting something shouldn’t have to be complicated. After all, we usually just select a file on our desktops and hit the “Delete” key. Unfortunately, Google integrates itself so closely into our digital lives that the process needs some navigation.
Deleting Your Google Account Activity
Google runs a large number of different services from Gmail to YouTube. Each of these manages your data in different ways. Don’t worry, though; you can handle it all from within the Google Activity Center.
Your web activities under Google come split into three main areas; Web & app activity, Location History, and YouTube History. Each of these areas needs separate management. You can choose to modify one, or all of them, depending on your needs.
Step 1: Stop Google from Saving Your Web Activities
Before you delete your web activity, let’s stop Google from doing this in the future. When you access your Google Activity Center, click the Web & app activity” link. This link will bring you to an “Activity controls page.”
The first main section on that page will be “Web & App Activity,” under which you’ll see the status of your activity tracking. If it shows “On,” click on the button to the right labeled “Turn off.” Once you’ve done that, a pop-up window will appear.
Google doesn’t want you to stop it from collecting your data, so that Window will contain a lengthy warning about the terrible things that may happen if you disable activity tracking. In addition, there isn’t a simple “OK” button, but Google labels it as “Pause” instead.
Go ahead and hit that “Pause” button.
Step 2: Download a Copy of Your Data
Technically, you don’t need to download a copy of your Google data. I understand, though, if you may have concerns or simply want to see what the search giant has been storing about you. If so, head over to the Google Takeout page.
On that page, select every single checkbox for the activities you want to download, then hit the “Next Step” button right at the bottom of the page.
The next page will allow you to choose if this will be a one-time thing or periodical. You also get to decide what format the archive file should be; zip or tgz. Windows and Mac users should select zip. Tgz files are for Linux.
Once you’re ready, hit the “Create export” button.
The more activities you’ve selected to export, the longer this process will take. You can close the page and simply wait for Google to notify you once the export is ready. When it is, just follow the link and download the file.
Step 3. Delete Your Google Activity
To remove your Google Activity data quickly, head back to your Google Activity Center again. On the left navigation bar, click on the “Delete activity by” link. On the popup window that appears, you’ll have a few options.
You can choose to delete your Google activities for the last hour, last day or specify a custom range of dates. If you want it all to be gone, hit the “Always” link. It’s weird, I know, but simply another sign of how Google tries to hand on to your data as much as possible by obfuscating things.
Should You Stop Google from Saving Your Web Activities?
There’s no denying that most websites today collect lots of user data. Selling ads targeting specific user profiles is a massive revenue stream for them. As an example, you can read about how Whatsapp makes money to see how it works.
The problem with web-based services is that they also have a legitimate use for the data collected. For example, Google can provide more relevant ads and offers specific to your needs by knowing your location.
Turning off activity tracking and similar options won’t break Google – but it may impact your user experience. It isn’t a horrible thing, but if you’re used to how Google works as it is, the lack of personalization may make its service feel weird for you.
You CAN turn off activity tracking safely, and it won’t turn out to be a massive disaster. If at any time you want that personalized experience back again, you can simply re-enable activity tracking.
Although Google, Facebook, and Whatsapp collect a lot of data and make money from it, they also (generally) don’t misuse your data. The problem is that other websites and services may not be as “user friendly,” and you never know where your data lands.
Be cautious on which web service you use today and, where possible, avoid providing them with too much personal information.