Tech Guide

How to find out what Google knows about you and limit the data it collects

Key Points
  • Google collects a lot of your personal data in order to target ads and improve your experience.
  • You might be surprised by how much Google knows about you.
  • CNBC will show you what Google tracks, what it knows about you, and how to limit what data is stored.
How to find out everything that Google knows about you

Google knows a lot more about you than you probably think it does.

If you use its products, such as Gmail, Google Search or even an Android phone, the company is collecting your data to make its services better for end users. CNBC recently showed you how to discover what Facebook knows about you, so now we're back with data on what Google knows, too.

It's not hiding that it knows this -- a quick peek at its privacy policy makes it crystal clear that Google knows this information -- but it might be surprising just how much it knows.

As a quick sampler, while I worked on this guide, I discovered Google knows the following about me:

  • My name, gender and birthdate
  • My personal cellphone numbers
  • My recent Google searches
  • The websites I've visited
  • That I turned on my bedroom lights last night
  • Exactly where I've been over the past several years
  • That I like American football, games, jazz, audio equipment, my favorite food & drink and more.
  • Where I work
  • Where I live
  • The YouTube videos I've watched and my YouTube searches
  • Every time I've used my voice to interact with Google Assistant (complete with recordings of my voice.)

Tap the links in each topic below to get a direct link to the proper spot to learn about what Google knows about you. Also follow the links I've provided to help you limit what Google is tracking, in case you don't want it storing that information.

Find out what ad topics Google thinks you're most interested in

First, make sure you're logged into your Google Account and then tap this link to Manage Ads Settings, which shows exactly what topics Google thinks you like. You'll see a picture similar to the one above. Scroll down the page and you'll see your gender, age and ads you've blocked.

How to limit this information: On the top of the Manage Ads Settings Page, toggle the button to turn off "Ads Personalization."

Find out where Google knows you've been

Google's Location History page shows a complete guide to everywhere you've been, in addition to your home and work, which you may have saved in Google Maps. It knows almost everywhere I've been since 2010. The map above shows a detailed look at the places Google knows I've visited.

How to limit this information: On the bottom of the "Location History Page" tap "Pause Location History."

See your Google Activity

Google stores data on the voice actions you've requested from Google Assistant, whether on a smartphone or Google Home, as well as the sites you visited. Here you can see it tracked me asking a Google Home to turn off the living room lights (complete with an audio recording) and that I visited the Apple Care website. Visit the Google My Activity page to see your own history.

How to limit this information: Visit the Google Web & Activity Page and click "manage activity." To limit what Google stores.

See your YouTube Activity

Google keeps tabs on your YouTube Search and YouTube Watch history. You can see exactly what Google knows you've watched or searched for on YouTube by clicking either of those links.

You can limit what Google keeps

Want to limit what Google can find and share about you beyond the links provided above? Be sure to use its Privacy Checkup tool. You can also visit the Activity page and toggle everything off, so that Google stops checking in on your location, device information, web & app activity, voice & audio activity, YouTube Search and Watch history and more.

Google is pretty transparent about all of this

To its credit, Google doesn't shy away from letting users know what data it collects and why. Its "Your Data" privacy page explains that it tracks things you create, such as emails, contacts you add, calendar events and photos you upload.

It also keeps your name, email address, birthday, gender, phone number and country. It collects data on what videos you watch, the ads you click, your location, device information, and IP address and cookie data. It says it does this to "make [its] services work better for you, which is true: If you block everything you also block Google's ability to show you more content it thinks you'll like. Google even lets users download all of their data, including photos, emails, contacts, bookmarks and more, so you can "copy, back it up or even move it to another service."

Google promises that it keeps all of this data safe during transit between your computer or smartphone and its servers. It also says that its cloud infrastructure protects that data, and that it doesn't give governments "direct access" or "backdoor access" to any information. Google provides a public transparency report on all requests and other issues that might affect users.

Finally, Google promises that it doesn't sell your data, but rather uses your information to "make ads relevant" while you're browsing the web. It says it doesn't hand over any of this information to advertisers.