Do you know every Google search you’ve ever performed is stored on the search giant’s servers? And that data is cross-linked to your search data from YouTube, Google Maps and any other Google services you use.
With that mountain of information, Google can tell a lot about you: where you live, your hobbies, age, health problems, religion and more.
Of course, Google uses that data mostly to target you with ads. If you spend 20 minutes doing research on a gadget, for the next few weeks you’ll probably be hounded by ads for that gadget wherever you go online.
Because search sites and other Web services have become so ingrained in our daily digital lives, it isn’t really an option to stop using them.
However, you can keep a lower profile and put a little more distance between your personal data and Google. To start, you can clear out your Google search history.
To see what forgotten secrets lurk in your Google history, go to https://www.google.com/history and sign in with your Google account information. You’ll see a list of everything you’ve ever searched for on Google.
You can browse through your searches and find them by day or Google service. Additionally, Google shows you personalized search trends, which can be interesting to look at.
To remove an unwanted search term, simply select click the checkbox next to it and then click the Remove Items button. You can select as many entries as you want at a time.
Once your information is removed, click the gear icon in the upper right corner of the page and choose Settings. Here you have the option to turn off your Web history. This will stop Google from recording anything else.
There is a catch to all this, of course – your information isn’t really gone. Google will still keep your “deleted” information for audits and other internal uses. However, it won’t use it for targeted ads or to customize your search results.
After your Web history has been disabled for 18 months, the company will partially anonymize the data so you won’t be associated with it.
If you don’t have a Google account, or don’t usually sign in to it, Google still tracks your history. To accomplish this, it uses a cookie stored in your browser.
You can wipe out the information by deleting the cookie, but Google will just start recording new information. Instead, you can opt out of interest-based ads altogether by going to http://www.google.com/settings/ads.
If you’re still concerned about stored information, your best bet might be to avoid using Google Search as much as possible. Alternative search sites DuckDuckGo and IxQuick parallel Google Search in features and performance, but don’t collect any private information about you.
Microsoft’s Bing Maps is a good replacement for Google Maps. Try using the venerable Firefox Web browser instead of Google’s Chrome.
The more you mix and match Web services, the less any one company is able to form a complete picture of you.
Don’t forget that while you’re busy surfing the Internet, your browser is also busy making a list of the sites you visit. Anyone who gets access to your computer can see it.
You can delete some or all of the websites you’ve visited by going to your browser’s options menu. Or you can use a free third-party cleaner program like CCleaner.
If you want to surf the Web without leaving a trace, all modern browsers have private, or incognito, browsing. While in this mode, your browser will ignore cookies and won’t record visited sites to your browser’s history.
Just don’t confuse private browsing with anonymity. Your Internet service provider (and your employer if you’re on a work computer) can still track the sites you’re visiting. Avoiding that tracking requires an entirely different set of steps.
Kim Komando hosts the nation’s largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. To get the podcast, watch the show or find the station nearest you, visit: http://www.komando.com/listen. Email her at [email protected]
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