How to Manage Your Google Privacy Settings
PC Magazine|August 2021
A privacy policy is meant to be a contract between you and a company—big tech companies in particular—that ensures these companies are keeping your data safe. One company that has an enormous amount of your data, from email and photos to videos to documents, is Google.
ERIC GRIFFITH

A privacy policy is meant to be a contract between you and a company—big tech companies in particular—that ensures these companies are keeping your data safe. One company that has an enormous amount of your data, from email and photos to videos to documents, is Google.

The Google Privacy Policy has been “updated” 37 times since its inception in 1999; updates typically happen three or four times a year. To its credit, Google makes all the changes in the policy pretty obvious and provides an archive of all previous policies.

It can and will change to suit Google, or to suit new laws and regulations Google has to follow. For example, in 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) completely changed how big companies handle customer data. Even though it’s an EU regulation, the GDPR touched any company with personally identifiable info (PII) on customers there. That’s definitely Google.

GDPR doesn’t necessarily help those of us in the United States, but there are ways to take control of what Google has on you. That means mastering your Google My Account dashboard.

CONTROLLING YOUR GOOGLE PRIVACY

My Account is meant to be a one-stop spot to take control of your privacy and security when it comes to this monolithic company. Rather than visiting settings for every individual Google service—Gmail, Google Drive, Android phones, the Chrome browser(s), YouTube, and a hundred others—you change global settings here. Mostly.

Go to My Account and do two things right away: a Security Checkup and a Privacy Checkup.

If you have multiple Google accounts—say, one for work and one you use personally—choose the one you want to check from the menu at the upper-right of the desktop screen. (Using a different avatar photo for each account will help you better distinguish between them.)

On the My Account page, the URL will be a little different for each Google account you have. It’ll end with /u/0 for the default account, /u/1 for the second, and so forth. Do a security check for each account.

Find Security Checkup at security.google.com/settings/security/secureaccount (or click Take action in the Critical Security issues found box).

It will take you through a number of cards to check items such as:

• Your devices (what’s signed in to the account)

• Known compromised passwords you’ve saved

• Third-party access

• Recent security activity

• 2-Step Verification (whether it’s on or not)

• Gmail settings

Any items marked with a yellow or red warning (an exclamation point in a circle) should get a once-over. For example, when you see devices you no longer use listed under Your Devices, nix them. Third-party access lists apps and services that have access to your Google data, some of which could be problematic. Delete those, too.

The Your saved passwords section offers a check on the passwords stored in your browser, which is probably Google’s Chrome. This is invaluable, because Google can tell you which passwords have been leaked or hacked and whether you’re still using them. Click Go to Password Checkup and run it. It’ll show you not only compromised passwords but also reused passwords (that’s a big no-no) and accounts using weak passwords. Take an evening to change them all (and start using a password manager, while you’re at it).

If you haven’t already activated 2-step verification, do so. New accounts should soon be getting 2-step verification automatically. With two-factor authentication (2FA) activated, you can’t sign into your Google account with a password alone; you’ll need a secondary method of authentication. It adds an extra step, but if someone guesses or steals your password, that won’t be enough information to sign into your account.

To authenticate, you’ll receive a code sent via voice or text message or displayed inside an authenticator app. Or select the Google “prompt” feature, which displays a notification on your phone asking whether you’re trying to sign into your account. To find the prompt, open the Google or Gmail app on your phone; tap yes.

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