Google privacy settings to change now

Whether you have a little or a lot of Google in your life, you should stay on top of these account settings.

An illustrated collage with the Google logo and security icons.
(Illustration by Elena Lacey/The Washington Post)
4 min

There’s probably a little bit of Google in every part of your life. The company hosts a sprawling network of tools and apps we use for everything — from school assignments and work emails, to watching how-to videos and making calls. The good news is that Google has tried to collect its most important privacy settings into one place, which means you can protect your data in Gmail and Google-owned YouTube at the same time.

Google offers a “Privacy Checkup” to get through settings quickly, but defaults to more mild options than we’ve listed below. There are some trade-offs when you limit Google’s data collection, according to the company. Google services that give recommendations might not be as helpful, and any ads you see will be less accurately targeted.

These privacy setting recommendations are based on your Google Account settings on the Web. You can also access them through individual Google apps or your settings on an Android phone by going to Settings → Google (or Google Services).

If you only do one thing

Start with the one setting that does the most to stop Google from tracking your search and browsing activity.

Google products are privy to some deeply personal information about your life. For example, Google searches can leave clues about your illnesses, while its Maps tools can collect your comings and goings. While knowing that info helps it make personalized products, it also helps the company target ads.

  • On the Web, go to → Data & Privacy → Web & App Activity. You can also get here directly on the Activity controls page. Turn off the toggle for Web & App Activity so it is gray instead of blue. A pop-up will ask you to confirm you’re ready to “pause” the data collection.

If you’re still concerned about privacy

While that one setting covers a lot of bases when it comes to how your personal information is used, there’s more you can adjust. You can limit other data the company collects about you, like videos you watch on YouTube, your location, product reviews you’ve left, even your Google profile. Then you can ask the company not to target ads to you at all, if you find them more invasive than helpful.

Start in that same settings screen and take control of more of your data.

Stop location and YouTube data collection
  • From the Activity controls page, scroll down and turn off the toggle by Location History so it is gray. (Curious what location information Google already has about you? Go to
  • Continue scrolling down to YouTube History and toggle the switch off so that it is gray.
Delete old activity

In addition to stopping future data collection in all those categories, you can delete all previously gathered information.

  • Under each section click “Manage Activity” to start the process, or set up auto deletion for 3 months and wait. (If you find Google products aren’t working as well with strict settings, come back and try turning them on with auto-deletion after a set period of time. Give it time to start collecting data again and see if services work better.)
Hide your product reviews
  • In your Google Account settings, go to People & sharing → Manage shared endorsements. Make sure the box on this page is unchecked.
Lock down your profile
  • In your account settings go to People & sharing → Choose what others see → About me. Make sure any sensitive details about you are set to “Only you” instead of “Anyone.”
Turn off ad-personalization
  • Go to your Ad Settings, either through the link at the end of the My Activity page or directly at Turn off the toggle so it is gray.
Cut off outside apps
  • And lastly, check to see what other apps are connected to your Google Account. In Google Account settings, go to Security → Third-party apps with account access → Manage third-party access. Make sure you trust and know any listed companies.

If you want to be extra cautious

To further avoid Google data collection without quitting its apps, you’ll want to avoid some of its products. Don’t use the Chrome browser if possible, and opt for a more privacy-minded option like Firefox or Brave. If you do use Chrome, stay signed out and consider a tool like the Privacy Badger browser extension to block trackers. You could also avoid using the Google search engine with an alternative like DuckDuckGo.

Goodbye, Chrome: Google’s Web browser has become spy software

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