You probably don’t need a Google search to tell you that Google knows plenty about you.

Perhaps you saw Dylan Curran’s recent Twitter posts (@iamdylancurran) detailing how Google and other entities, from Facebook to Windows, gather personal information when you use their services. Among other things, he points out that you can download everything Google knows about you. 

But you don’t have to download anything. Google makes it easy to see what data it has gathered about you via the web.

Just go to myaccount.google.com/dashboard and dive in. 

Google’s dashboard lets you explore what it knows about you.

You leave footprints all over the internet, via web browsers and phones and the apps you use. Your Google dashboard will show you 20 or more sets of tracks, from Google Books – did you buy a book there, or download free editions? – to Google Play (all those apps you use) to your Gmail (if you use it) to your use of Google Maps and more.

So Google knows that I have 45,068 emails. It knows that I am logged in to my Google account on four devices – my phone and three Android tablets, two of which are sitting in drawers in Illinois – and the last time I used each device. It knows that I’m male but doesn’t know my age. 

I found stuff I’d forgotten about: the 240 photos from a family reunion several years ago in South Dakota, uploaded to Google so cousins in Utah, Wyoming and Texas could see them. Blogs that we were going to use to keep in touch and plan future excursions. 

Funny thing I learned, but can’t explain: Google doesn’t know quite as much about where I am as I thought it would.

The timeline on Google Maps lets you explore the places you’ve been. Sometimes.

If you use Google Maps, you can click on the menu (those three horizontal lines at the top left) and click on “timeline” and see what Google knows about where you’ve been. Here’s where things are a little strange for me: Google knows most every detail about the trip I took with my wife to France last May, down to the 6 minutes at McDonalds on the drive to O’Hare Airport, or the 14 minutes we spent at the tourism office in Monaco. It knows a lot about a few weeks before that trip, too.

But my activity drops off after that. Google doesn’t know that I was at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on Feb. 23 for a spring training baseball game, even though I used Google Maps to get me to the ballpark. I spent several hours at the Marathon Seafood Festival on March 10, but you’d never know it from my Maps timeline. On my phone, which is virtually always with me, my “location history” is turned on. But it’s not generating any history. Which is fine with me, even though I can’t explain it.

In addition, some of what Google thinks it knows is wrong. In my ad preferences, Google thinks I like athletic apparel and boating. Google, have you met me? 

Google would have me believe I like country, classical, rock, folk, blues and pop music. Yeah, no. 

Google Ads settings reflect your interests. Sometimes.

Google does nail my geek side: I like computer hardware, computers and electronics, computer components, electronics and electrical, and laptops and notebooks. Batting 1.000 here, Google.

I’m not even going to get into how web browsers (I use Google’s Chrome) keep track of the places you’ve visited on the internet, and your searches, except to note that web histories timestamp everything, but they can’t exactly pinpoint how you get down the rabbit hole. So I know that at 11:31 p.m. on March 28, I clicked on Billboard’s “The 20 Best Jimmy Buffett Songs (Updated 2018).” But I cannot for the life of me figure out where that link came from.

  • You can download all your posts on Facebook and Twitter, too. 
  • There are trade-offs – keep your location on, and mapping apps work faster, for instance – but in most cases, you have a significant measure of control over your privacy, or lack thereof, online. 

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