Tips & Advice

Free your Android from Google tracking

Charlotte Empey, 29 May 2018

Here are the tips you need to stop Google from tracking your Android device.

Do you ever get the feeling you’re being watched? Guess what — every time you pull out your smartphone or tablet and surf the internet, you are. The websites you visit, the items you browse and buy, the videos you stream, and where you were located when you did it. All of this paints a picture of who you are, what you do, and what interests you — all vital information to advertisers and marketers.

Maybe you’re okay with this practice. Maybe you don’t mind if websites remember your visits or if Google collects data on every search you perform and website you frequent. But if you’re not okay with it — if it all seems just a little too Big Brother for your taste — there are steps you can take to safeguard your privacy. This guide will teach you how to protect your privacy on an Android device.

How do Google and other companies collect your data?

Have you ever wondered how Google tracks your activity? To quote a certain Sesame Street monster, “C is for Cookie.” Cookies are little data files or ID tags that a website sends to your browser (be it Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Internet Explorer), where they are often stored on your device. They are designed to keep track of your activities.

Cookies aren’t inherently bad. In fact, their existence is often what makes your browsing experience a pleasant one. They help a web page load more quickly the second, third, or fiftieth time you visit it. They remember your login info when you hit “remember me,” and they also remember your language selection and other preferences.

However, certain types, called tracking cookies, record your activity and send a log back to the website or search engine. Have you ever Googled a certain product, only to see an advertisement for that very product on your next visit to Facebook? That’s a tracking cookie in action.

Here are some things you can do to disable tracking cookies and enjoy a little more privacy:

Enable private browsing on your device

One easy way to keep websites from tracking your activity is to use the private browsing mode on your web browser of choice. When enabled, private browsing prevents your web browser from saving your search history and storing (most) cookies.

The process of entering private browsing mode will vary depending on which web browser you use on your Android device. For instance, if you use Chrome, you simply need to click on the Tabs icon in the upper-right corner, click the More Options symbol (the column of three dots), and select New Incognito tab to launch a private browsing tab. Firefox calls it “masking,” and Opera calls it “private.”

Private browsing is great tool, but it’s also a temporary solution that concludes at the end of each browsing session. You have to remember to enable private browsing every time you open your browser.

Disable Google’s tracking tools

If you are a Google customer (i.e., you have a Gmail address or YouTube account, or you’ve purchased content through Google Play, etc.), then you can go a step further and take more permanent action by turning off Google’s tracking tools. Here’s how:

On your Android device, go to myactivity.google.com and sign in to your Google account (if you’re not already signed in, thanks to a cookie!). In the upper-right corner near your profile/account info, you’ll find the More Options icon (again, the column of three dots). Click on that icon and select Activity controls.

On this page, you’ll see a list of the different activities that Google tracks: Web & App Activity, Location History, Device Information, Voice & Audio Activity, YouTube Search History, and YouTube Watch History. There’s a little slider control beside each activity name. Simply turn off tracking for the desired activities, and you’re all set.

Since you’re already in Activity controls, this would be a good time to go ahead and delete the data that Google has already tracked and stored. For each activity that you would like to clear, look for the Manage Activity option and click on it. When the new page loads, select More options > Delete activity by > Change “Today” to “All time” > click Delete.

Control ad data on your device

Android users can perform an additional step within the device itself. You can tell your Android phone or tablet that you do not want to receive personalized ads, which are based on your browsing habits. Within your device’s Settings menu, go to Google > Ads > turn on Opt out of Ads Personalization > select OK.