Google knows a lot about you. Your search history, the videos you watch on YouTube, the places you find on Google Maps, the apps you open, the emails you send … all that data has to live somewhere.
If you want to know exactly how much there is, Google itself has actually done the work for you by compiling everything it has on you in the My Activity dashboard and Google Takeout. My Activity gives you a list of everything you’ve ever done on a Google service and allows you to navigate through a lot of different data points, while Takeout allows you to look through all this information in the form of HTML, JSON, and CSV files.
If you want to read through your old YouTube comments (or just delete them to save yourself that ordeal) or get a visual representation of your location history, My Activity is the way to go. It’s a bit more user-friendly and visual. If you’re looking for the raw, compact data so you can scroll through more easily or apply some analytics yourself, Takeout has your back. Either way, knowing what to look for is half the battle, so here’s a comprehensive guide to what you can find in your Google data dumps.
The main categories we’ll be looking at are:
- Search history
- YouTube search/watch history
- History of your Android app opens
- Maps/location data
- Everything you’ve ever said to your Google Assistant (with audio!)
- Every Google ad you’ve seen or interacted with
Accessing My Activity and Takeout
To get to your My Activity dashboard, you just need to visit https://myactivity.google.com and sign in with your Google Account. You’ll see several options here, including “Bundle View” and “Item View,” which allow you to switch between seeing your activity types bundled together under each day or seeing each individual item in your history.
The “Filter by date & product” button is especially important, as you can choose which type of data you want to know about rather than combing through every single thing that Google knows about you. You can find some other interesting points by going to “Other Google activity” and sorting through the vast list of categories there to find everything from your device information to your Google Play library.
My Activity also includes a handy “Delete activity by” tool that allows you to search for anything matching a certain filter and delete it, as well as “Activity controls,” which allow you to tell Google which data it can save in the future.
Getting to Takeout requires a few extra steps, but those have already been covered here. After downloading and unzipping your archive, you’ll be confronted with a lot of different folders and files, but don’t worry, this guide will show you where the interesting stuff is hiding.
Your search history
In My Activity you can find your search data by going to either Bundle or Item view and applying the “Search” and “Image search” filters. You can also choose to search within certain date ranges if you’re looking for something in particular.
In the Takeout folder go to “My Activity -> Search,” “My Activity -> Image Search,” or “My Activity -> Video Search” to see the data listed in a more compact HTML format. This makes for a fun data analysis project if you have the skills and time.
The emails you store in your Gmail account can all be downloaded using Google Takeout, which might be a good idea if you want to make sure you don’t accidentally delete or otherwise lose some of your important records. You can find them in “Takeout -> Mail.” They’re stored in the form of .mbox files, though, so you’ll need to use an mbox reader to view them.
Your YouTube history
If you’ve ever wanted to go back and get a sample of your musical tastes at different ages, now you can! In My Activity, filter by YouTube to see the videos you watched and add “Video Search” to see what search terms you entered. You can also manage your YouTube comments, likes, dislikes, and purchases from the “Other Google activity” section.
Takeout has all this data, plus your chat messages, subscriptions, playlists, etc. You can find it by going to the YouTube folder in Takeout and clicking through each category. “YouTube -> history” holds your watch and search records.
Every time you’ve opened an Android app
Did you know that Google has been logging your activity every time you open an app on Android? If not, this list is going to come as a surprise. Just go to My Activity and filter by “Android” to see which apps you’re probably opening a little too often.
You can find the same information by going to “Takeout -> My Activity -> Android.” Yes, it’s a bit creepy, but running this through some analytics might help you use your time a bit better.
Your Maps and location history
If you use Google Maps or location services on your Android phone or through your Google Account, a lot of the places you’ve searched for and/or gone have been recorded. To see your Google Maps history, just filter My Activity by Maps.
Your Takeout file includes several folders here: Maps, Maps (your places), Location History, and “My Activity -> Maps.” These contain information like your reviews, places you’ve pinned, GPS coordinates and timestamps, search history, and more. Interestingly, as the picture below shows, your Takeout Location History JSON file even contains fields that estimate the likelihood that you’re walking, still, in a vehicle, exiting a vehicle, on a bike, etc.
Because there’s quite a gold mine of information here, there are actually several tools that help you explore this data in a more visual way, including Google’s Location History tool and a third-party creation that creates a heatmap for you. As you can see in the picture above, Google even included the screenshot I took of my bus ticket when I used Maps to navigate out of the Shannon airport during a layover in Ireland.
Everything you’ve ever said to Google Assistant
All your voice searches and commands are transcribed and stored, just like your other activity, but that’s not all – they also have your voice on file. It’s simultaneously creepy and nostalgic to go back and listen to yourself berating Google for not being miraculous enough to understand you the first time.
To find your searches and audio files, go to My Activity and filter by Assistant and “Voice and Audio.”
In Takeout, go to “My Activity -> Assistant” and “My Activity -> Voice and Audio” to find your logs and MP3 files.
Where and when you’ve seen Google ads
This one is probably more useful for Google than it is for you, but if you want to take a look at where you’ve seen ads and /or interacted with them, you can filter My Activity by Ads or check out the “My Activity -> Ads” folder in Takeout. Possibly the most interesting thing about this category is that your web history isn’t typically saved forever, but the pages and apps where you’ve seen ads certainly are.
Miscellaneous other data
Not everything in your Google data is equally juicy, but depending on your habits, you may find this other data intriguing:
- Your bookmarks
- Your calendar
- Your books, games, movies, music, and app store
- Your Google Pay and Play Store history
- Your Hangouts and Google Voice history (with voicemail recordings and texts)
- Your Google Keep notes
- Your Google News habits
- Your interactions with Google Help
There are also a few interesting points in your “Other Google activity” section, most of which have to do with your preferences.
- Device information
- Management tools for a lot of your YouTube activity
- Google Ads settings (you can see the categories they’ve put you in and manage how you get served ads)
- Your Google News preferences
- Your voice and face match data
What to do with all this data
If you’re okay with Google having all this data, you don’t have to do anything except browse through it and look for interesting insights into your life and habits. If you find yourself getting creeped out, though, Google does allow you to control the data they collect about you, largely through the “Activity controls” tab in My Activity.
You can also go back and delete your activity, either all at once or by searching for specific items you’d rather not have on your record. Your Google Account also has some things you can use, like Privacy and Personalization, where Google helps you decide what to share.
Being aware of the data that exists on you is important regardless of your own feelings on privacy, and now you know where to find it!