How to Update Your Google Privacy Settings

Computer mouse with thief disguise next to open lock

Frazer Hudson/Getty Images

How comfortable are you with all your Google searches being freely accessible by the world's most popular search engine? In the past, Google has operated with at least sixty different privacy policies (one for each of its services), which made things a tad confusing to say the very least. Google has changed its security and privacy policies over the years to greater benefit the consumer, however, it's smart for searches to be aware of their Web privacy.

Your Privacy and Google

Basically, all the services that you use when you're logged into Google are able to use those snippets of data as a comprehensive strategy to target ads even more effectively. For example, say you're driving to your local amusement park. Your kids are using YouTube to pass the time, your husband is checking the traffic reports via Google Maps, and you're checking Gmail. When you log on to the Web later on in the day, it's likely that you will see targeted ads for that amusement park on whatever sites you visit - and your friends on Google+ will probably see them too, since Google can use this relationship to make an intelligent assumption about your friends being influenced by something you enjoy.

If this bothers you -- Google using your information to make ads even more targeted to you and your friends/family -- there are a couple ways to get around it.

How to Avoid Your Searches Being Tracked in Google

The easiest way to avoid all of this is to simply log out of your Google account. Once you're logged out, Google can't see what you're doing, other than basic geo-targeting (if you're in San Francisco, you're going to see local eateries before NY restaurants). However, you won't be able to use many of Google's services that require a log-in: Gmail, Google Docs, Blogger, etc.

You can also just simply use another search engine that is less invasive. For those of us that are particularly privacy-conscious, a good choice is DuckDuckGo, which doesn't track your movements at all. You might also want to try Bing, Wolfram Alpha, or StumbleUpon or other search engines.

One more way to make this easier on yourself? Use a little bit here, a little there. For example, if you love Google Maps and want to keep using it, you can, but diversify your Web services to other handlers: for example, use Bing to search, Vimeo to watch videos, Yahoo Mail for your email, etc. There's no rule that says you have to use one Web organization for everything you do online.

How to Adjust Your Google Privacy Settings

If you're stuck on Google (and let's face it, most of us are), then here's how you can protect yourself from any intrusiveness:

  1. Log into your Google account.
  2. Look for your Search History page. If your history has been turned on, click Remove all Web History, then click OK when Google tells you that your Web history will be paused.
  3. Next, you'll want to double-check your YouTube settings. Go to the ‚ÄčYouTube History page, found when you're logged in to your Google dashboard.
  4. Click on History > Clear All Viewing History > Clear All Viewing History (yes, again). Do the same with Search History, found directly under the "History" button.

Bottom Line With Google and Search Privacy

Google's privacy policies have made some pretty far-reaching changes over the last few years, to the point where online privacy advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation are deeply concerned for Web users and the future of Web search in general. If you are not happy with how Google handles user privacy, there are even more steps you can take to ensure your anonymity online, including: