How to Stop Google Tracking and Delete Your Search History

How to Stop Google Tracking and Delete Your Search History

Take back control of all the personal data.

Google tracks you on and off the web in a myriad of ways – that’s no surprise. But you can wrestle back some level of control. Want to stop Google from knowing anything about you? That’s nigh-on impossible: the advertising giant collects data every time you search the web, every time you visit a website, every time you use your Android phone – you name it, Google is using it to collect data about you. It’s the cost of getting so many services without spending any money, but there are ways to limit what Google collects about you.

What Google knows about what you do.

There are two ways to get a copy of all the data Google collects on you: Takeout and Dashboard. Takeout was created to let users grab their data from Google and shift it to another service, beginning with photos and contacts but since expanding to Android device settings, Chrome bookmarks, Google Fit activity data, and even your Cloud Print history. Building the Takeout archive can take a few days to create, with Google sending you a link to download when it’s ready.

Dashboard was designed with data management in mind, offering a snapshot of the data Google collects about you as you use its services. That includes the number of email exchanges you’ve had in Gmail, number of files in Drive, and how many photos Google stores for you, but the key information is what Google dubs “activity data”, such as your location or searches or browsing history. If you want to freak someone out, show them their location timeline, where Google Maps keeps track of everywhere you go and when, alongside the photos taken that day and travel times down to the minute.

Another source of Google data is your personal profile, held in your Google Account. Under the menu, head to “Personal Info”: on this page, you can see what information Google makes public about you and update information such as your photo and birthdate. You can’t simply delete this data, but if you want to obfuscate you can of course enter false information – just remember you’ve done so in case you need that information for password resets.

What Google thinks it knows about you

Google uses the data it collects to build an advertising profile, making its money via ads – Google’s parent firm Alphabet posted ad revenue of $32.6 billion last quarter – not by directly selling your data, but through letting companies personalise their advertisements; this is why that pair of trainers you’ve been coveting keep following you around the web. Such behavioural advertising can be more sophisticated than that. Google notes that if you search on Maps for “football fields near me” or watch match highlights on YouTube, it can put two and two together that you’re a football fan.

Handily, you can see who Google thinks you are by heading to Ad Settings. There, Google paints a picture of who it thinks you are: your age and gender, what topics you’re interested in from air travel to world news, and companies you’ve visited online.

Eyeing up Takeout, Dashboard, and your personal and advertising profile, you’ll get a good sense of the epic mountain of data Google is accumulating about who you are, where you go, and what interests you. If you think Google is leaving something out, or has more data on you it’s not willingly revealing, you can also file a subject-access request, which is a right enshrined in EU law to find out what data any organisation holds on you.

How to clean up your Google account settings

Now that you’ve got a sense of the epic scale of data being collected, it’s time to do something about it. Google’s default settings favour data collection rather than personal privacy, but the company has made it easier to consider your settings on the Data & Personalisation page with the Privacy Checkup, which walks you through a set of questions regarding your settings.

That includes “activity” settings, profile information and personalised advertising; if you’ve got a Google account, get a cup of tea (or something stronger) and spend half an hour going through each and every control.

Web & App activity

Web & App activity collects your searches and browsing activity in Google apps such as Chrome as well as apps that use Google Services, such as mapping. That’s used to power previous searches and make suggestions; if you turn this off, you’ll not see your recent searches or personalised results. Turning this off doesn’t block Google from knowing which sites you visit.

Voice

If you talk to your phone or a Google Home device, such as by clicking the microphone icon in Chrome or saying “Okay Google”, a record is kept. Google says it uses that data to improve its speech recognition, including to better understand your specific voice. Each clip is accompanied by details of when the recording was made and through which app, such as Chrome or the Android Google App — you can even play back the sound clips. They can be deleted en-masse or one-by-one. These recordings can be disabled in your account under My Activity.

Location

Location history tracks where you are even when you aren’t using Google Maps. Google asks whatever device you’re using where you are, and holds onto that data. Head to your Timeline to see the full scale of it: if you use Android, Google likely knows where you were at all points in time for years. The personalised services this offers aren’t impressive: turn off location history, and you can still use Maps, but won’t get recommendations based on places you visited or “useful” ads. Turn it off in Activity controls, and delete existing data in Timeline. Even if you do turn off location history tracking, Google still knows where you are and other apps may nab that information; to fully stop that, you’ll also need to turn off Web & App Activity, too.

Other settings

Alongside the above, you can also disable YouTube Watch History and Search History, which Google uses for recommendations, and manage Google Photos, such as turning off facial recognition and removing location data from the metadata of shared photos.

Advertising profiles

If you don’t want personalised ads, you can turn them off in Ad Settings, and under Options, stop Google from using your web activity and other information from Google services to personalise ads. You’ll still see ads – this isn’t a blocker – and Google will lose any personalisation you’ve requested, such as if you’ve asked not to be shown specific ads or topic areas. Google will also still collect information such as the subject of the page you’re looking at, time of day, and your location, it just won’t pair that with your previous browsing history or what you watched on YouTube.

Demographic information, such as your age and gender, can’t be deleted but can be updated; if you’re trying to avoid Google’s reach, there’s nothing to say you can’t lie here, though Google may well suss out your deception and switch you back to a 35-44 year-old woman, even if you try to tell the company you were actually born a man in 1927.

Topics of interest can be changed or deleted by clicking “turn off”; this information is based on your Activity Controls described above, so if you want Google to stop collecting and using your browsing information to uncover your interests, turn off Web & App Activity and turn off Ad Personalisation. If you want to turn those ad signals back on, scroll back down to “what you’ve turned off” to re-enable them.

You can also turn off specific advertisers in Ad Settings. Click the name of the company, and Google will reveal why it thinks you’re interested – perhaps you visited the advertiser’s website or app – and let you click to “turn off” those ads. That doesn’t mean you won’t ever see ads from that company, but they won’t be based on personalised data.

Other ways to staunch the data leak

The best way to limit Google’s data collection is to delete your account, but you needn’t go that far to staunch the flow. Can’t live without Gmail or Maps? You can limit some of the collection by switching to some non-Google products and services where it suits you. For example, ditch Chrome for Firefox or Brave. Use DuckDuckGo rather than Google Search. If you can afford it, ditch your Android for an iPhone. And so on.

You can delete your account entirely – but even then, Google may still keep tracking you via what one report called “passive data”, though Google said it doesn’t tie your name or other identifiable details to that profile.

Because of that, a more proactive approach may be necessary even for those without Google accounts. As with any online activity, ad blockers such as AdBlock Plus and privacy extensions like Disconnect or Ghostery will stop surveillance systems such as cookies and social trackers. On Android, the Firefox Focus browser has such tools built in; on desktop, consider the Brave browser.

references: wired, google

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Is Google Stadia the Netflix of Gaming?

Is Google Stadia the Netflix of Gaming?

“The future of gaming is not a box,” according to Google. “It’s a place.” Just like how humans have built stadiums for sports over hundreds of years, Google believes it’s building a virtual stadium, aptly dubbed Stadia, for the future of games to be played anywhere. You won’t need an expensive gaming PC or a dedicated game console. Instead, you’ll just need access to Google’s Chrome browser to instantly play games on a phone, tablet, PC, or TV. It’s a bold vision for where gaming is heading, and Google hopes its Stadia cloud streaming service will make it a reality.

Google may have just unveiled the future of gaming at the Game Developers Conference (GDC), but it’s a future the company has left us knowing very little about.

GOOGLE’S BIG YOUTUBE AND CHROME PUSH

At the heart of Google’s Stadia cloud streaming service are YouTube and Chrome. Google is leveraging YouTube to lean heavily on the popularity of gaming clips and creators who regularly stream games to millions of people on services like Twitch. These communities and games like Fortnite have turned into virtual places where kids hang out to chat, play, and watch streamers. It’s a big business, too. Fortnite made around $2.4 billion alone last year, and one of the most popular streamers makes more than $500,000 a month.YOUTUBE HELPS PUSH STADIA

The Stadia premise is that you’ll be able to watch a clip of a game and then instantly play it or even launch to the very same point in the game of the clip you were watching. Streamers will be able to create lobbies for fans to join and play with them on YouTube, and Stadia will support instant clipping to the video service. This is a game console running in the cloud and built for the YouTube generation, and it’s Google’s big push here.

Chrome also plays a big role as Google’s dominant web browser. Stadia will only be available through Chrome, Chromecast, and on Android devices initially. Google has promised more browsers in the future, but it’s not clear when this will arrive. Google only demonstrated the service on its own devices, and there was no mention of iOS support through a dedicated app or Apple’s Safari mobile browser.

Google’s Project Stream test.

GAMES, LINUX, AND PRICING

Google has some significant hurdles to overcome if it wants to dominate gaming for the next generation, though. The biggest among them is getting games on its platform. Google showed a single new title, Doom Eternal, running on Stadia, and it promised that more than 100 game studios already have dev kits. Google even unveiled its own Stadia Games and Entertainment studio to create Stadia-exclusive titles, but it didn’t mention any details on what games it will be building.

Google is using Linux as the operating system powering its hardware on the server side. That means game developers will need to port their games to Stadia, and you won’t be able to bring games you already own like some other cloud gaming services (Nvidia’s GeForce Now or Shadow). Google is partnering with Unreal and Unity and even middleware companies like Havok, but there’s going to be some lifting involved for developers to get games onto Stadia. Google needs to convince big publishers to sign up, but it failed to detail how much it costs to develop, publish, and run games on Stadia.

We don’t even know how much the service will cost for consumers or when it’s launching — only that it will arrive in some form in 2019. Will it be subscription-based? Can you own your games in the cloud? These are important questions that Google needs to answer, and it skipped past them yesterday to promise more details in the summer. It feels like Google has rushed to beat some self-imposed GDC deadline to court developer interest here, and it’s likely why the company was only able to show a handful of games yesterday.

Inside a Google data center.

INTERNET CONNECTIVITY

Economics aside, Google also stealthily avoided the big questions around existing game streaming services: internet connectivity. Google is using its own compression technology to stream games in 1080p or 4K to devices, and some of the typical latency will be reduced by having the game client and server on the same machine. Still, you’ll need a reliable and active internet connection to access Stadia, and Google is recommending a connection of “approximately 25 Mbps” for 1080p resolution at 60 fps.GOOGLE HAS OMITTED KEY DETAILS ABOUT STADIA

In an interview with Kotaku, Google Stadia boss Phil Harrison says, “[W]e will be able to get to 4K but only raise that bandwidth to about 30 Mbps.” That means the average fixed broadband connection in the US, currently around 96 Mbps by some estimates, will be sufficient, but if you’re living in a state without broadband coverage or relying on rural internet speeds then you’ll be stuck waiting on the Federal Communications Commission to raise the minimum rural broadband speed standard to 25 Mbps. You’ll also need a connection without broadband caps because if you’re going to be playing games a lot, then it will soon eat into data limits. We don’t know the exact bitrates of Stadia just yet, but watching a regular HD Netflix stream uses around 3GB per hour, and this more than doubles for 4K streams.

Speeds won’t cover the latency aspect, though. This is key to any game streaming service. While services like Netflix can download and buffer the fixed content you’re streaming, a game service relies on picking up your controller movements and relaying them in real time back and forth between you and the server you’re playing on. This means the closer to the server you’re playing on, the better, and the fewer hops through internet traffic, the better.STADIA’S GRAPHICAL POWER IS IMPRESSIVE BUT LARGELY IRRELEVANT

Google has a solid advantage here due to its cloud infrastructure, but if you’re not near a big city where Google’s data centers are located, then you won’t get the most ideal experience. Google is addressing part of this by connecting its Stadia controller directly to the server you’re playing on over Wi-Fi, but it has no control over the thousands of ISPs and how they route traffic to its data centers.

Google’s Stadia service is also entirely cloud-based, which means no offline play. While you might typically sync a few Netflix shows to your phone or tablet because you know your LTE connectivity sucks, you’ll need a constant connection to Stadia to play games on the go. 5G will certainly help here, but only partially and not anytime soon.

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GAMING POWER AND IMAGE QUALITY

Google also revealed that its servers will be powered by a custom AMD GPU that will deliver 10.7 teraflops of power, which is more than the 4.2 teraflops of the PS4 Pro and the 6 teraflops of power on the Xbox One X. This graphical power is impressive but largely irrelevant. The end result of actual gameplay will rely entirely on your internet connection to Stadia.

Google will compress the image from its servers to your client, resulting in a loss of image quality. We don’t know the exact bitrates that Google will use for Stadia, but if you’ve ever watched a 4K version of a Netflix show, you’ll know the image quality isn’t as good as a Blu-ray copy. The same will apply for Stadia, and how you notice it will depend on your internet connection and the device you’re using to access Stadia. Smaller screens will make the drop in image quality less noticeable, and more internet bandwidth will give you a higher bitrate and thus a higher-quality image.IMAGE QUALITY WILL BE BASED ON YOUR INTERNET CONNECTION

This will all vary from game title to title, and Google hasn’t shown enough variation of games to really give an understanding of how well Stadia will perform. Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry was able to test Stadia, but the testing was limited to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey instead of a demanding title like a first-person shooter that requires quick player response time or fast-moving action games where artifacts are much more obvious.

All of this makes Stadia look like an early beta for what will be part of the future of gaming. Google has hired a lot of industry talent for this ambitious project. Phil Harrison, a former Sony and Microsoft executive, is leading the Stadia charge, and Jade Raymond, who has previously worked at Sony, Electronic Arts, and Ubisoft, is heading up the company’s first-party games. Xbox Live Arcade creator Greg Canessa is also working on Stadia, alongside former Xbox gaming partnerships lead Nate Ahearn. All of this experience should help Google in its cloud gaming fight.

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THE COMPETITION

Sony already streams PlayStation games to its consoles and PCs via its PlayStation Now service. Sony acquired game streaming service Gaikai to turn it into PlayStation Now, and it even acquired rival OnLive only to shut it down. Microsoft is also planning its own xCloud game streaming service, which it demonstrated recently, with public trials set to start later this year.

Sony and Microsoft’s approaches aren’t cloud-native like Google’s, and they don’t require developers to port their games or rebuild them for their cloud streaming service. Both companies are using console hardware in server blades. That’s a benefit for now as both Sony and Microsoft can offer big game libraries without needing developers to change anything. Google’s ambitious effort will require more heavy lifting from developers, but Google has the longer-term advantage of being able to switch out its hardware with ease in the future and implement changes that don’t affect legacy console hardware.GOOGLE HAS SOME MASSIVE COMPETITION

Amazon also looks like it will be a big cloud gaming competitor to Google, and Nvidia also streams games. Even Valve is expanding its Steam Link game-streaming feature to allow you to stream your Steam games from a PC to anywhere through the Steam Link hardware or the Steam Link app.

Sony, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google will be the key players in any cloud gaming war. Sony has the games and PlayStation Now, Microsoft can leverage its Azure data centers and Xbox Game Pass for xCloud, and Amazon can lean on its cloud dominance, Prime, and its massively popular Twitch service to entice gamers. Google has some fierce competition, but it looks like this cloud gaming war is just getting started.

references: the verge, google, microsoft, sony

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How to Block Search Engine Indexing with ‘noindex’

How to Block Search Engine Indexing with ‘noindex’

You can prevent a page from appearing in Google Search by including a noindex meta tag in the page’s HTML code, or by returning a ‘noindex’ header in the HTTP request. When Googlebot next crawls that page and see the tag or header, Googlebot will drop that page entirely from Google Search results, regardless of whether other sites link to it.

Important! For the noindex directive to be effective, the page must not be blocked by a robots.txt file. If the page is blocked by a robots.txt file, the crawler will never see the noindex directive, and the page can still appear in search results, for example if other pages link to it.

Using noindex is useful if you don’t have root access to your server, as it allows you to control access to your site on a page-by-page basis.

Implementing noindex

There are two ways to implement noindex: as a meta tag and as an HTTP response header. They are equivalent in effect, but you might choose one or the other as more convenient based on how much control you have over your server and your specific publishing process.

<meta> tag

To prevent most search engine web crawlers from indexing a page on your site, place the following meta tag into the <head> section of your page:

<meta name="robots" content="noindex">

To prevent only Google web crawlers from indexing a page:

<meta name="googlebot" content="noindex">

You should be aware that some search engine web crawlers might interpret the noindex directive differently. As a result, it is possible that your page might still appear in results from other search engines.

Help Google spot your meta tags

Google has to crawl your page in order to see your meta tags. If your page is still appearing in results, it’s probably because Google hasn’t crawled your site since you added the tag. You can request that Google recrawl your page using the Fetch as Google tool. Another reason could also be that your robots.txt file is blocking this URL from Google web crawlers, so Google can’t see the tag. To unblock your page from Google, you must edit your robots.txt file. You can edit and test your robots.txt using the robots.txt Tester tool.

HTTP response header

Instead of a meta tag, you can also return an X-Robots-Tag header with a value of either noindex or none in your response. Here’s an example of an HTTP response with an X-Robots-Tag instructing crawlers not to index a page:

HTTP/1.1 200 OK (…) X-Robots-Tag: noindex (…)

references: google