Files going into a trash can on tablet

How and Why to Annihilate Your Google and YouTube History

Google offers tools to remove your historical data

Last year, you might have been into Googling crazy wave eyebrows, TikTok videos or designer Crocs, but now those things are just plain uncool compared to what you’re into now. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t know your tastes have changed, keeping an eternal history on you, and how many times you’ve looked at pics of Kylie Jenner’s lips.

Though you can use tools to delete your history, Google has now come out with a way to auto destruct your search history. The service is not only valuable to avoid embarrassment, it could aid your privacy and make Google searches more relevant to your current interests.

Like many platforms, Google has automatically kept a record of our internet searches, going back years. Data is used to build a detailed profile on the user. In part this is to offer up relevant content in searches, but it also lets marketers target us with more focused ads.

If you are streaming programming to your TV from the internet, including Amazon or Netflix, that history is recorded too. Since my Android phone is synced to my computer, Google has tracked the actions I have taken on my phone too. 

Google search screen on laptop

There is a lot of data saved up on me, and unless you live in a cave without internet service, I’ll bet there is a good amount on you too. Sure, you can manually purge your history—if you remember. As an alternative, try Google’s new privacy tools and do it automatically. Launched in May, the company now allows for automatic deletion of history from Google searches, virtual assistant requests and location history. More recently, Google followed up by expanding the auto-delete ability to YouTube.

In October, an incognito mode was rolled out for Google Maps. While this might be a handy tool if you don’t want to share your location, such as a doctor’s office visit, it’s not complete privacy. When activating incognito mode in Maps, you’ll receive this message: “Turning on Incognito Mode in Maps does not affect how your activity is used or saved by internet providers, other apps, voice search, and other Google services.” This means only your Maps browsing and location sharing are temporarily disabled.

Chrome’s incognito mode operates similarly. Websites, employers and ISPs can still access your browsing traffic. You didn’t expect Google to give up everything did you? After all, Google has done sneaky things to subvert its users privacy settings in the past.

So, what is the best way to use Google’s new privacy tools? Here are a few essential tips to auto-delete your history.

The best place to start is My Activity on Google. Click Activity Controls in the left column on desktop or by navigating to the menu icon on a smartphone. You will see an option called Web & App Activity. Click Manage Activity and then the button under the calendar icon “Choose to delete automatically.” Here, you can set your activity history on several Google products to automatically erase itself after three months, after 18 months, or the default, which is to keep it until you delete it manually. This data includes searches made on Google.com, voice requests made with Google Assistant, searches in Google’s Play app store and more. Below the Web & App Activity section, you can go through the same steps to delete your YouTube history and Google Maps location history. 

Choosing Settings
Google uses your history to offer up relevant content. If you are a frequent searcher, setting your history to delete every three months may keep the content you are seeing fresher. For example, I work in technology and often want to see the latest tech news. I set my search and YouTube history to self-destruct after three months so I am offered up new information based on more recent searches. And if I have to look at ads, it might as well be for products I am currently interested in, not what I shopped for last Christmas. With Google Maps, I often want to call up directions to a place I’ve been recently, so that is set at three months as well. If you only do periodic searches, you could go with the 18-month setting.

I don’t use Google Assistant, and rarely visit Google News, so I left those settings to continue until I manually delete. However, if you are a Google Assistant user, you can now also say “Hey Google, delete the last thing I said” or “Hey Google, delete everything I said to you last week” without having to access the My Activity tools. Amazon added similar data deletion feature to Alexa in May.

Privacy tools are important in today’s vulnerable-data world. When they are easy and automated, it is worth the few minutes of time it takes to set up.

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