What Google Knows (and How You Can Protect Your Browsing Privacy)

Google has consolidated its privacy policy in a way that aligns the data from your interaction on Google products — Gmail, YouTube, GooglePlus, Picasa — with advertisements targeted toward your interests. Google also keeps a log of your searches and other activities filed with your IP address. Your approximate location is assessed by Google to advertise local business from this address, or from a GPS signal when using a location-enabled Google service (like Google Maps). If you have a Google device, such as an Android Phone, Google knows your hardware model, the operating system version, and your mobile network and phone number. If you have Google+ or a Google account, you may have given your name, age, your email address, your telephone number, your credit card, and possibly a photo of yourself (if you’ve uploaded one) to Google.

How to Adjust Your Google and YouTube Privacy Settings

You may clear your Web history while logged in to your Google account by going to the search history page and clicking on the button labeled “Remove All Web History.” This will prompt you with a confirmation that “Your Web history will also be paused.” You can clear your YouTube history by clicking on the “Clear all viewing history” button at the upper left-hand of the page. Click out of the confirmation by clicking out of the green bar that appears to “Pause viewing history.” You’ll need to repeat this process to clear your YouTube search history as well, found under the “History” tab. Google’s Ads Preferences manager can also be edited, or you can opt out of advertisements targeted toward your interests (but not advertisements entirely).

Anonymize

Major browsers have an option where your browser’s history files aren’t recorded and cookies are deleted after use, such as when you browse in “incognito” or “private browsing” mode. Some services may not function property while in private browsing, such as Netflix or automatic sign-in. Anonymizers, such as Tor, are software options that defend against network surveillance, location tracking, browsing habits, and forms of traffic analysis.

What DuckDuckGo Doesn’t Know

Another option for search engine privacy is a different search engine.Gabriel Weinberg started a search engine in 2006 called DuckDuckGo. The minimalist search engine does not store any personal information. While your Web browser automatically sends your IP address to DuckDuckGo when you access the search tool, DuckDuckGo does not log this information, and your search history is not stored. DuckDuckGo does use browser cookies by default. Though searches are saved, they are not saved in a personally identifiable way, and are only used to improve things like misspellings. While DuckDuckGo does make money on contextual advertising (sponsored links tailored to a search), those advertisements only appear due to one immediate search, not from a history of personal information.