Google Privacy 101: How to Make Sure You’re Safe

Are you comfortable with information on your Google searches being tracked, monitored, and used to create a profile about you and your search habits? Do you have a concern about your Google privacy?

If you respond “yes”, you’re definitely not alone. Google has made an entire industry out of user data, and while privacy is definitely a priority, it’s completely up to the user how much of their data is actually tracked. Historically, Google has operated with at least sixty different privacy policies (one for each of its services), which has made keeping user data private somewhat challenging.

Your Privacy and Google

Simply put, all the services that you use when you’re logged into Google are able to use those individual snippets of data as a comprehensive strategy to target ads even more effectively. For example, say you’re driving to your local dry cleaners. Your kids are using YouTube to watch cartoons, your husband is using Google Maps, and once you’re safely stopped at a stoplight, you quickly  check Gmail. When you log online later, it’s very likely that you will see targeted ads for that dry cleaners on whatever sites you visit.

This simplification of re-targeted ads is pretty basic, but if you find this process potentially troublesome, read on for ways you can deal with it effectively and keep your privacy intact.

Can I avoid having my Google searches tracked?

The simple answer is: yes and no. There is still going to be tracking of your activity while using Google, but you as the user can minimize it. The easiest way to avoid all of this is to simply log out of your Google account, which logs you and your data out of all Google services – search, email, any of the peripheral services that might be using your data to create a smoother user experience.

Once you’re logged out, Google can’t clearly see what you might be up to, other than basic geo-targeting (if you’re in Helena, Montana, you’re probably going to see local establishments before you see anything from Ohio). Keep in mind that if you’re logged out of Google and Google services, you won’t be able to take full advantage of what these services offer.

Do all search engines track user searches?

Not all search engines track user data the way that Google does; the world’s most popular search engine has made quite a footprint doing this and it’s meant to benefit users. However, if data privacy is a concern for you, you can also just simply use another search engine that is less invasive.

For those that really want to guard their data and are very conscious of privacy, a good choice is DuckDuckGo, which doesn’t track your data at all. You might also want to try BingWolfram Alpha, or StumbleUpon (more search engines can be found here: The Ultimate Search Engine List).

One other note: there is another way to get around this. Instead of  focusing all your time on just one search engine, it’s smart to diversify.  For example, if you love Gmail and want to keep using it, you can, but diversify all your other needs to more than one service. For example, use DuckDuckGo to search, Vimeo to watch videos, Hotmail for your email, etc. Find what works for you.

How do I make my Google search settings more private?

If you’d like to stick with Google, here’s how you can make your search settings more private.

  1. Log into your Google account.
  2. Look for your Search History page. If your history has been turned on, click “Remove all Web History”, then click “OK” when Google tells you that your Web history will be paused.
  3. Next, you’ll want to double-check your YouTube settings. Go to the ​YouTube History page, found when you’re logged in to your Google dashboard.
  4. Click on “History”/”Clear All Viewing History”/”Clear All Viewing History” (yes, again). Do the same with “Search History”, found directly under the “History” button.

How can I stay private online?

If you are concerned about your privacy online – and not just your Google privacy – here are a few more ways you can keep your data safe and secure:

  • Search Engines and Your Privacy: It’s a good idea to at least familiarize yourself with the basics of whatever search engine you’re using and their privacy policies.
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