Here’s what Google knows about you—and how to change it
This is one first impression that won’t stick.
We’ve all wondered what people think of us. Do they find our jokes funny? Are our stories fascinating or insufferably pretentious? The truth is: we may never know. As a consolation prize, though, we can all find out exactly what Google thinks of us, no potentially awkward conversation required.
It’s common knowledge that the tech company monitors your browsing habits to paint a picture of who you are, then uses that portrait to show you ads you might be interested in while you search the web, watch videos on YouTube, or find your way home on Google Maps. But what’s not well-known is how easy it is for you to see that profile for yourself and opt out of some or all of the company’s data-collection process.
Decide how much you care
Google’s data collection is a double-edged sword. On one hand, personalized ads mean you won’t have to see banners and videos promoting products you find boring or useless, and would never buy. So if you’re not a parent and have no interest in having kids, you wouldn’t see ads promoting strollers and diapers, for example. On the other hand, personalized ads work as targeted campaigns dead-set on keeping you engaged and consuming as much as possible—the more you spend, the more money Google and other advertisers make.
[Related: How to protect your smartphone privacy]
Maybe you like the convenience of a big tech company knowing your habits, but if you’re looking to regain a little bit of privacy, take a minute to tell Google what it can and can’t know about you.
Know what Google knows about you
Start by going right into your Google account. From the website of any of the company’s services, click or tap your avatar—usually in the top right corner of your screen—and go to Manage your Google account. Once you’re there, choose Data & Privacy, scroll down, and under Ad Settings, go to Ad personalization.
By default, you’ll see the toggle switch for ad personalization is on, which means Google is using your data to refine the palette of ads you see on its services. But before you tap the switch to turn it off completely, feel free to scroll down and take a look at the categories the big G has used to describe you and how accurate they are.
The first major ones are age, gender, and language. Tap or click on any of these if you want to Update or Manage them. With the last of those three descriptors, you can add the languages you speak or turn the feature off to prevent Google from automatically adding more languages in the future based on what you read or type. With age, if you haven’t already, the platform will ask you to enter your birthday. If the company already has this information, however, there’s no way to remove it, but you can add to it.
[Related: The government won’t protect your internet privacy, so here’s how to do it yourself]
The next categories are interests the platform thinks you have, including what type of news you’re interested in and the sports, movies, and hobbies you enjoy. Don’t expect these to be highly accurate or say a lot about you. Google can get many of these wrong, and they can be so random that they’re funny. For example, according to Google, I am a man interested in football, classical music, and combat sports. Now, as a woman who strongly believes football is soccer, can’t tell Bach from Mozart, and has no idea what MMA stands for, I find all that hilarious.
If you’d rather Google be confused about what you’re actually interested in, you might want to keep these as-is. But if you want to rectify this information, you can disable your interests completely by clicking each one and choosing Turn off. You don’t get the opportunity to edit them. If you want to turn everything off in bulk, you can scroll up and toggle off the switch next to ad personalization.