Google’s Android operating system is famously free — but there has to be a catch, right? Well, the catch is in the form of Google’s deep integration into Android, which goes far beyond Google-made apps alone.
Now, every Android phone already comes with a regular Settings app where you can control the display settings, set up a PIN lock, add accounts, and so on. It’s important and you’ve probably explored it thoroughly. But there’s another Settings app that you should pay attention to: Google Settings.
What Does Google Settings Do?
The Google Settings app is found on all Android phones. Either it’ll be part of a group of Google apps, or standing by itself, but it’s easy to identify — look for a cog wheel icon with “Google Settings” as the name. If you’re running Android 6.0 Marshmallow or newer, it should be in your regular Settings app underneath “Google”.
This app is how you can control the amount of information that your Android phone or tablet shares with the larger Google ecosystem. Remember, Google is tracking you all the time, and this is how you get some amount of control over it.
Google Settings has two different uses. First, you can control what information you share. And second, you can tweak certain features and applications so that you have a better user experience. Let’s dive in and see what we get.
Account and Services
Google Settings is broadly split into two categories, Account and Services. The Account section is actually not that much you have to be concerned with.
In essence, these are shortcuts to take you to different aspects of your Google Account, such as sign-in and security, controlling your account settings, and so on. Tap any and you’ll be taken to a web page for that setting.
Instead of this, find yourself a computer and go through the privacy and security check-up on Google’s My Account page. It’s a better step-by-step way of getting an overview of your account and implementing the necessary security protocols.
The Services section, on the other hand, matters a great deal. It has plenty of useful actions that dictate how your Android phone behaves with your cloud-based Google account.
Control How You See Ads
Google has extensive controls for how ads are shown to you. You can decide whether to let Google track you everywhere and serve you ads based on your interests, or to just show you anonymous ads instead.
In Google Settings > Services > Ads, you can choose to opt out of interest-based ads so that apps won’t use your advertising ID to build a profile about you, or show you interest-based ads. You can even reset your ID to start with a clean slate.
See Which Apps Connect to Google
It’s not best practice to sign into third-party apps with your Google account, but it’s so convenient that we do it all the time. Over some period, you end up granting Google credentials to a lot of apps. In Google Settings > Services > Connected Apps, you can see which apps have such access and revoke it if so desired.
You could even choose to let an app continue to have access, but limit what activity it shares on Google+.
Control Drive Access on Networks
In Google Settings > Services > Data Management, you can choose how app files that are connected to Google Drive upload data. For example, WhatsApp can be backed up over Google Drive. If you want this to happen only over Wi-Fi and save your cellular data, this is the option to do it.
Check or Delete Google Fit History
The Google Fit protocol for fitness-related apps and services is used by several third-party apps and gadgets like FitBit. If you want to see which of your devices use it, here’s the place to check it. In case you’ve gotten rid of a device or app, now is the time to disconnect it so that your Fit data doesn’t get affected.
You can also delete your entire Google Fit history here and start afresh on your health journey.
Control Location Access for Apps
Your phone has a GPS chip, and that means it’s possible for apps and services to always keep tracking you. Want to control that? Here we go!
In Google Settings > Services > Location, you will see a list of apps that have recently requested your location data, and you also have granular control over how that data is collected.
Under “Location Access”, you will find a list of all the apps that are granted permission to access your location. Tap the cog wheel and you can refuse all or individually deny permission.
Under “Location History”, you will find where you have been recently, as Google tracks your location information and creates a map out of it. If this creeps you out, there’s a handy button to delete your history, and you can then turn it off.
Control Google Play Games Profile
Google’s new Play Games creates a profile for you based on the games you play. This profile can be kept hidden or made public in Google Settings > Services > Play Games.
Here, you can also choose to receive notifications for multiplayer games, quests, requests for gifts, and so on. Some games allow you to mute these notifications completely as well.
Adjust “OK Google” Voice Commands
While Apple has Siri, Google has “OK Google”, a voice-activated robotic assistant. In Google Settings > Services > Search & Now > Voice, you can choose the language used for detecting your voice — even if it’s English, see if your country is noted under “English” too, since accents are easier to pick up that way.
Under “OK Google” detection, you can choose whether the command can be activated only from the Google app or from anywhere on screen. You can also teach your phone to recognize your voice, so that it unlocks by voice alone.
Other options include speaking into a Bluetooth headset, blocking offensive words, downloading certain languages for offline recognition, and so on.
Set Up Nicknames for Contacts
In Google Settings > Services > Search & Now > Accounts & Privacy > Nicknames, you can use Google Now to create nicknames for contacts on your device. Easier to say “Call Jackass” than “Call Harry Guinness”, right?
Set Up Nearby Devices
Google’s Nearby feature, available at Google Settings > Services > Nearby, uses your phone’s sensors to connect to other devices across short distances.
Similarly, you can set up Nearby devices that you trust, like a fitness tracker, so that Google can use it to exchange data freely.
Super-Control Your Privacy
Do you want to others to know what you have searched for or watched on YouTube? Do you want others to have a record of your Google Location History? Do you want it to be tracked at all?
If you value your privacy, go to Google Settings > Services > Search & Now > Accounts & Privacy > Google Activity Controls, and choose what Google-related activity is tracked on your phone and account, and which of that can be seen by others. This one is really important!
Activate and Choose Google Now Cards
Android has a super helpful new feature called Google Now, which is a smart algorithm that tries to serve you information you will need before you ask your phone for it. For example, it’ll bring up your flight details in a neatly formatted card just before you hit the airport.
In Google Settings > Services > Search & Now > Now Cards, you can control what level of cards you want (all or basic), manage the history of cards you have received, and control your preferences and notifications. It’s granular control over one of the best new features of Android.
Set the Default Search Bar’s Behavior
The search bar that you see floating on your Android home screen? Well, you get to figure out what you want it to search. That search bar can directly start searching the web or go through your contacts or even access data from some apps.
In Google Settings > Services > Search & Now > Accounts & Privacy, you can choose to activate SafeSearch filter and tell Google to always search on your local domain or not.
In Google Settings > Services > Search & Now > Phone Search, you can tell the search bar which apps or data it can mine. So, for example, if you only want it to look through your contacts and your Web autocomplete entries, you can select those two and switch off the rest.
Control Google-Based Security
Android takes advantage of the Google ecosystem to boost your phone’s security. Go to Google Settings > Services > Security, and you’ll find basic options to scan the device for security threats and to send data from unknown apps to Google.
You’ll also find the settings for the must-have Android Device Manager here, which lets you locate your device if you lose it, and even remotely lock and erase all the data in case it’s stolen.
Did You Know About Google Settings?
The number of people who aren’t aware of Google Settings and its many applications is shocking. Heck, even while I knew it existed, I had never bothered to explore it and was surprised by just how much control it offers over the Android experience. Did you know about and tweak Google Settings before you read this article?
Google Settings is one of the apps that every Android user has, but never noticed. In fact, there are so many such apps and features built into Android that we haven’t paid attention to. If you have an “unnoticed” Android app or trick, share it in the comments below!