How to download your Google data and what you’ll find

Curious to see how much a sprawling Internet company knows about your likes, history and movements? Download your Google data.

This is the week many of us took a harder look at our Facebook data, spurred by a reminder that we’ve allowed the social network incredible access to our preferences, thoughts, movements and friends.

But Google tracks even more of our lives, as more people use Google for many other parts of their days —including e-mail, calendar, web browsing and the Android mobile operating system, which has an 85% market share of smartphones, according to market tracker IDC.

Many of us started using Google before Facebook, and thanks to wildly popular services like Google Maps and Waze, Google can keep tabs on our every move. But the varied nature of Google’s apps and products (which also include No. 1 video site YouTube) mean that it may be keeping more on you than you may realize.

I downloaded the Google data this week. Here’s what I found.

Begin by goinghttps://takeout.google.com/settings/takeout.

This is Google’s data download page, where Google shows you all the various units from the company. Google lets you choose whether to download the data from all the categories from the Google universe or go piecemeal.

Choices include Calendar (what appointments I had), Chrome (my searches), Drive (my saved uploads), Location History (everywhere I’ve driven to or asked directions for in Google Maps), Play Music (what songs I listened to), YouTube (videos) and Hangouts (who I interacted with.)

Gmail is not on the list, but the application keeps a record of your e-mails, unless you’ve deleted them to make space. Last year Google said it would stop reading your email to target ads.

You have the choice of getting the download via an e-mail link or having it archived in your Google Drive, but this does count against your storage quota, Google notes. (I subscribe to a 1TB backup, and it’s already got 750 GB full, so I went for the partial download.)

But it’s worth a look for everyone to see what information Google has and take a few seconds to delete it all.

Google notes that in making the request, the download could take “hours, or even days,” to compile, depending upon how active a Google user you are.

Mine arrived in a few hours, delivered to Gmail. After unzipping the files, most are categorized in clear-to-read English and go way back — mine to 2009.

The list included everything from the mundane (a voice request on Google Home to solve 6*12.50), that I listened to Prince on Google Play last week, watched a James Corden clip on YouTube and every Google search, made both publicly and anonymously in Incognito mode.

That last bit of history was a surprise. Google tells users that searching in Incognito mode means “Chrome doesn’t save your browsing history” and “basic browsing history information like URLs, cached page text, or IP addresses of pages linked from the websites you visit.”

We reached out to Google for comment, but have yet to hear back.

So if Google is holding onto your data, even when you think it’s not, here’s a tip: delete it.

How to delete:  

Go to Google’s My Activity page.

From there, Google lets you choose what to delete. The process is cumbersome. You pick a date (today, this week, this month, all time) and the category (say, Google Chrome.)

Select your date, hit enter and watch it all go away. Google says deleting the data will mean less effective and speedier searches. I’ve been deleting search histories for years, and Google is still lightning fast for me.

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