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Users can restrict Google from collecting location data as well as their location history.
Users can restrict Google from collecting location data as well as their location history.

How to limit what Google knows about you

Google gathers data about Android users and the services they use, but there are options that restrict what data is shared from the phone, at least to a certain extent

Most phone makers or app developers record user data at some point to fine tune their services for a better user experience. But there have been concerns about the misuse of the data. A recent report in Quartz, published on 21 November, claims that Android devices have been collecting location of nearby cell towers using cell tower triangulation and sending them to Google, even if the location services are turned off in the user’s phone. Responding to the report, Google pointed out that this was a part of Google experiment to improve message delivery on Android devices and will put an end to it with an update later this month.

For the sake of transparency, many tech companies, including Google, give details about the data they collect, in their privacy policy, and also provide users the option to restrict access to that data afterwards. Switching them off completely may interfere with the working of the app, but keeping them on all the time can be risky.

While signing into a Google Account, users part away with personal information such as name, email address, telephone number or credit card linked to the account.

We take a look at the data that users share while using a Google service or app on an Android smartphone and what they can do about it.

Keep location details private

Google collects information about users’ location using IP address, GPS, WiFi access points or cell towers. It uses the location history to offer better recommendations from Google Assistant or traffic predictions in Maps. Users can restrict Google from collecting location data as well as their location history. They can disable this feature in Settings->Google->Location->Location history. If you don’t want to completely turn off the location history, you can visit the location history in Maps->Timeline and remove particular locations manually.

Stop advertisers from tracking you

Every Android smartphone is assigned a unique advertising ID. It allows Google to identify users’ preference and then shows advertisements based on areas that users are more interested in. However, users can stop apps from using their advertising ID to target them with more personalised advertisements by opting out of the ads personalisation in Settings->Google->Ads. Advertising ID includes some device-specific information such as model name, OS version and even mobile number.

Threat from third party apps

Google also provides users the option to login to third-party apps using their Google account. It speeds up things for users as they don’t have to remember and type usernames and passwords, but is major privacy risk as it allows third-party apps access to Google credentials. The good news is that users can delink the app from Google anytime they want in Google Plus->Menu->Account->Apps with Google+ Sign in.

Which data to save

To help users view and manage their online activity across all Google apps, Google came up with a My Activity page. Anything from Google search to YouTube history, voice commands and device information is saved here. If users are concerned about all this data falling into wrong hands, they can delete an activity data or simply disable the MyActivity option in Google->MyActivity->Activity Controls.

Reset browser history

Google uses data saved in cookies to keep tab on users’ preferences and then uses it to provide more accurate suggestions in other apps. Cookies are files created and saved by websites based on users’ browsing history. Users can block cookies by resetting the browser in Chrome->Settings->Privacy->Clear Browsing history.

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