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If you’re using an Android phone or tablet, Google is already tracking a lot of information about you.
They do make it easy to close your account entirely, but most of us probably aren’t looking to disconnect that much — especially since you need a Google account to download apps from Google Play.
So cutting Google out completely is not what this guide is about.We’ve already covered how to remove all your data from Google, but this is a guide for those of you who love your Android device but are already looking to dial back how much data you give Google. Frankly, there are a lot of places to check, and while this list may not be comprehensive, I hope to cover the big things.
The vast majority of Google’s offerings don’t cost users a thing. This is because the tech giant derives most of its income from ads, and these affect you whether you have a Google account or not. The company uses tracking cookies and other methods to build an advertising profile around you.
It’s difficult to avoid them while navigating the web, but you can use your account to see some of this information for yourself. On Google’s ad settings page, you can tweak certain details to make them more accurate and opt-out out of a interest-based ads.
Google’s primary business is search, so let’s address that next. The company not only saves a record of every webpage you visit, it keeps track of everything you type into the search bar, whether on the desktop or the Google Now app for Android.
On Android, this includes the seemingly local searches you perform to find apps saved on your phone. Fortunately, Google makes this information easily accessible at the top of its account history page, where you can opt not to save everything. So after you browse through Google’s record of your activity, feel free to turn it off. And adjust your search preferences while you’re at it.
When you use Gmail, Google obviously stores a copy of everything you send on its servers. That’s simply an inherent part of how email works. But Google also scans your mail to send you ads. And not just text either — it scans images too. If you want out, your only option is to remove Gmail from your account and find a more secure email provider.
One of the perks of using an Android device since the early days has been watching your contacts move smoothly from one device to another. This is because everything syncs to your Google account.
Of course, this means that the company stores all of this data. Considering that you’re saving phone numbers along with both email and street addresses, this is really personal information. You have the option to delete contacts one at a time if you wish, but we recommend you save the contacts to your device or in a good old-fashioned paper address book before you do.
For most Android devices, exporting your contacts to your SIM card involves going into the People app, selecting Settings, and then Export Contacts to SIM, though these instructions can vary from device to device thanks to heavily customized Android skins.
Just like contacts, your calendar events sync as well. Only in this case, you can’t remove them from your account without losing access to Google Calendar entirely. But if you have a third-party app that you would rather use instead, you can export your calendars before deleting all of your events.
Whether Google mines the files in your Drive account the way it does Gmail is unclear, but either way, any documents you save on their servers remain available to them if at any point in the future they change their minds. Even if this doesn’t concern you, you may still want to toggle which third-party apps have access to your data. You can manage this in Drive’s settings in a web browser.
As for getting rid of your Drive documents (including content saved in Docs, Sheets, and Slides), that amounts to highlighting each file and selecting delete, followed by emptying the trash. Google may not immediately purge this data from its servers, but at least it won’t be visible to anyone who happens to gain access to your account, maliciously or otherwise.
Google+ has its own set of privacy concerns. Like any social network, you have to set things up so that posts only go out to the people you intend for them to. You have to also make sure you aren’t projecting your location out with everything that you send.
Who can invite you to join communities or tag you in photos? Did you want your Google+ profile to show up in Gmail? If this all seems like too much work, you can delete your Google+ account at the bottom of the settings page.
Google+ also is the service that can automatically backup your photos on Android, so you’ll probably want to open the app and go to Settings > Auto Backup and make sure that it is turned off.
Voice Searches & Commands
It’s very cool to say “OK Google” and have your phone answer any number of questions and obey commands. Sometimes it will respond regardless of which screen you’re on. But by default, Google saves a recording of everything you say.
Don’t believe me? Go have a listen. If you’re like me, you will probably want to erase those and tell Google not to keep making copies.
Did you know Google tracks everywhere you go with your Android device? If not, then the information you see on this page might just freak you out.
Yup, that’s everywhere you’ve ever gone since buying your smartphone. If you find this more cool than creepy, carry on. Otherwise, you can tell Google to cut that out by toggling this setting off.
Just be careful. Certain apps, such as Google Now, try to turn this setting back on even when it isn’t a hard requirement. Keep a close eye on what prompts you say yes to.
When you use Google Play to install content, Google has a list of everything you get. It’s part of the agreement, even if it’s just an implicit one. Unfortunately, this is just the nature of most cloud services. If you want out of the arrangement, your only real choice is to discontinue using the Play Store. That’s a big step, and I’m not saying you should go that far. But if you want to, here’s how to go back and clean your tracks.
There’s no fast way to erase all of the apps you’ve ever purchased, but you can delete items one at a time from the Play Store app. Select My apps from the navigation menu, switch to All, and tap the X on apps that you’ve uninstalled.
To clear those novels and comics you’ve purchased over the years, just head to your Play Books library and select the three dots at the bottom of each book to download files to your hard drive and delete them from the web.
Note, some (if not most) are locked down with DRM, so you can’t use them elsewhere without your account (though, technically, you can strip them of DRM if you so choose). There’s no option to wipe your entire collection at once, so you will need to do things one item at a time.
Google makes it easy to clear out the music in your library. Just go to Play Music settings and hit the Delete My Library button.
Movies & TV
There doesn’t seem to be anything you can do about this content. The most you can do is archive So if you don’t want a particular movie or show tied to your account for good, don’t buy it.
Just like with movies and TV shows, you’re stuck with your magazines and newspapers. If you don’t want Google keeping up with what you’re reading, subscribe elsewhere.
YouTube settings are available on the account history page. There you can pull up a list of every video you search for, delete the inquiries you would prefer to keep quiet, and tell Google not to save all of your searches. You can also find all the clips you’ve watched and give them the same treatment. And if you have your own channel, you can get rid of the stuff up there too.
How Much Info Are You Giving Google?
If there’s one thing you take away from this post, know that you can access a great deal of information straight from the Google dashboard.
Out of the box, Android devices turn most of these features on. So does Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps, and every other service that the company produces. Google does a relatively good job of giving you control over your account, including the ability to export and download most of your data. But unless you make an active choice to manage settings, it will save and track everything by default.
Hopefully this guide helps you take control of your Google account.
If there’s another setting or app you would like to disable, feel free to chime in below!