Way back in 2013, Google quietly added the Google Settings app to Android. At first, it didn't have much, but it has added a lot of useful features over the years, especially for the privacy-conscious. If you haven't checked it in a while, it's worth a second look.
Disable Loads Of Activity Tracking in Account History
Under Account History, the first section in the app, you'll find options to disable a whole host of Google tracking. Some of the sections only allow you to disable tracking, but others will actually allow you to see your history. What's available through this app is a little surprising:
- Web & App Activity: This allows you to see nearly everything you've visited or searched for with a Google device. This includes your web-browsing history (across any platforms that have tracking enabled) as well as searches via the Google app. This is similar to what you can find here.
- Device Information: Here you can disable data sync between your device and your account. This includes things like contacts, calendars, and other device data. Note that, in the Google Settings app, this is an all-or-nothing switch. If you want to disable only certain data, head to the regular Settings app > Accounts > your Google account and disable sync for certain services.
- Voice & Audio Activity: This controls Google's collection of your voice data. At first glance, this seems like it's just saved server-side for research purposes (that's how Google's speech recognition got as good as it is), but you can also tap the "Manage History" button to see all of your voice searches with audio. This includes voice commands, so if you (or someone who's snooping) wants to hear what you sound like when you asked Google Now to navigate to home, you can do so here. This is also a handy place to delete searches/commands from your history.
- YouTube Search History: Here, you can see (and delete) anything you've searched for on YouTube. Disabling search history here will turn it off across your entire account, so YouTube on the desktop also won't remember your history. However, Google warns that the Android app has app- and device-level tracking that's independent of the account-level history that you may also need to turn off if you don't want YouTube to remember anything.
- YouTube Watch History: Yes, this is a separate thing. What you search for and what you watch are tracked in two different categories, so if you don't want Google (or anyone else) to find out that you've been watching a looping playlist of K-Pop girl bands for a week, you'll want to turn this off as well.
- Google Location History: Here you can see which devices have location history enabled and bulk delete your location data if you so choose. Unlike some of the other categories, you can't actually view your location data here, but you can stop the tracking or remove your entire history if you want to.
If the Google Settings app had nothing else in it, all of this alone would make it worth taking a look at. Google tracks a lot of what you do on your phone. While not everyone has a problem with some of this data collection, it's important to know how to stop it.
Get Less Creepy Ads by Turning Off Interest Tracking
It's a well-known fact that Google tracks your data in order to send you more targeted ads. Some find this to be an acceptable trade-off. It can turn creepy, though, when you get an ad for something you want, but you don't know how an advertiser knew that's what you want. As we've discussed previously, you can disable interest-based ads in the Ads section of Google Settings. This should prevent targeted ads and give you the generic ones instead. You can also reset your advertising ID if you're ok with targeted ads, but you've been getting some weird ones lately.
Revoke Access to Your Account From Connected Apps
Like Facebook and Twitter, Google allows you to use your login information to sign-in to other services. This means that third-parties, such as IFTTT and Pocket, can have access to certain privileges to your Google account. We already recommend using services like MyPermissions to clean out old authorisations, but you can also see what sites have access to your Google account from the Connected Apps section of Google Settings.
See Which Apps Use Your Location
Not only is location tracking a privacy concern, but it can also drain your battery if it's used too much. The Location section of Google Settings allows you to switch between highly accurate or battery-saving modes. More importantly, it gives you a list of apps that have requested your location, as well as how much battery they're using to do it. This is especially handy for finding any rogue apps.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are by far some of the most useful functions of Google Settings. You can also view or disable Google Fit connected devices, manage your Play Games settings, or disable certain Android Device Manager functions (although that's not really recommended). Google Settings can be updated via Play Services, so even if you checked it when you first got your device, it's worth taking a another look every now and then.