7 Essential Settings to Secure Your Google Account

Google Privacy Settings Hero

Even if you’d like to, we can’t all just stop using Google. Some of us have professional obligations that require Google’s software, or we can only get the services we need through the big G. It doesn’t help that Google’s services are almost always unquestionably the best free offering in their market segment. But no one likes Google looking over their shoulder constantly.

Here’s how to reduce the privacy risks (to the extent allowable by Google, anyway) and secure your account against unauthorized use. If you can’t run away from Google, at least mitigate the damage.

1. Turn Off Location Tracking

There’s something deeply disturbing about a third party constantly knowing your location. If you allow a Google app to track your location, that’s exactly what you’re signing up for. Just look at your location data to learn how detailed a portrait Google can paint when you turn on one toggle switch.

To disable location tracking, turn off “Location History.” This will also cripple some apps, like Google Maps, which may no longer permit you to save locations like Home or Work. This is intentional: Google wants that location data and will do what it can to convince you to surrender it.

1. Log into your Google account.

2. Click “Data and Personalization” on the left.

Google Privacy Settings Data And Personalization Menu

3. Click “Location History” under “Activity Controls.”

Google Privacy Settings Location History

4. Slide the toggle to the off position.

Google Privacy Settings Location History Toggle

5. Confirm by clicking “Pause” at the bottom of the pop-up window.

Google Privacy Settings Location History Toggle Confirm

2. Disable Web & App Activity

Google carefully monitors what you do in its apps. When the Web & App Activity toggle is enabled, Google saves all that data to a server. To avoid leaving a detailed diary of your comings and goings, disable Web & App Activity.

1. Log into your Google account.

2. Click “Data and Personalization” on the left.

Google Privacy Settings Data And Personalization Menu

3. Click “Web & App Activity” under “Activity Controls.”

Google Privacy Settings Web App Activity

4. Slide the toggle to the off position.

Google Privacy Settings Web App Activity Toggle

5. Confirm by clicking “Pause” at the bottom of the popup window.

Google Privacy Settings Web App Activity Toggle Confirm

3. Turn on Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

1. In the sidebar, click “Security.”

Google Privacy Settings Security Menu

2. Click “2-Step Verification” under the “Signing in to Google” section.

Google Privacy Settings 2fa Menu

3. Click “Get Started” to begin the 2FA setup.

Google Privacy Settings 2fa Start

4. Enter your phone number, select the mode of communication, and click “Next” to move on.

Google Privacy Settings 2fa Enter Phone

5. Enter the code you receive on your phone in the next screen.

6. If the code is correct, click “Turn On” to begin using 2FA on all future logins.

Google Privacy Settings 2fa Confirm Code

We recommend against SMS for your 2FA codes. The GSM network is encrypted, but the protocol was not designed for high security. With a SIM swapping attack, an attacker can access all your accounts without a single outward sign of trouble. Use Google Authenticator or a password manager to generate 2FA codes on your device. Then, no one can intercept them.

4. YouTube History

YouTube has its own history setting which you must disable separately from the other web history controls.

1. Log into your Google account.

2. Click “Data and Personalization” on the left.

Google Privacy Settings Data And Personalization Menu

3. Under “Activity Controls,” click the “YouTube History” item.

Google Privacy Settings Youtube History Menu

4. Switch the “YouTube History” toggle to the off position.

5. Click “Pause” in the pop-up dialog to confirm.

Google Privacy Settings Youtube History Confirm

5. Update Recovery Email and Phone Number

It’s a smart idea to connect one of your other emails to Google as a recovery account. This will allow you to regain access to your account if you cannot log in, whether because you’ve forgotten your password or something else has gone wrong. While this gives Google a little more information about you, it’s low-value information.

To add a recovery email, log into your Google account, then open your email settings. Set a recovery address under the “Recovery Email” section.

6. Depersonalize Ads

This won’t reduce the number of ads you see, but it will keep Google from using personalization data to target you more effectively. Remember, the goal of an ad is to part you from your money: personalized ads are only more effective in their goal. Consenting to personalized ads is consenting to manipulation.

1. While logged into your Google account, visit your Ad Settings page.

2. Switch the toggle under “Ad personalization” to the off position.

Google Privacy Settings Ad Personalization

3. Click “Turn off” in the confirmation window.

Google Privacy Settings Ad Personalization Confirm

7. Encrypt Your Synced Chrome Data

When you’re signed into Chrome, you’re sharing your browsing history with Google. While their data agreements are murky on exactly what they do with this data, it’s clear from experience that it’s used to sell ads against your browsing habits, either in aggregate or in small groups. While this data is theoretically anonymized, we require only a small amount of browsing data to connect browsing history to a real name. It’s smart to encrypt your synced browsing history using a passphrase or your Google credentials. In the interest of security through compartmentalization, we prefer creating a unique passphrase to encrypt your browsing data.

To set a passphrase, open Google Chrome’s settings and click “Sync and Google Services.” Under “Encryption Options,” set a strong passphrase. You’ll need this passphrase to sync your browsing history to any device, so save it in your password manager.

Conclusion

Google is not a good choice for privacy or data security. But for many, convenience will easily win out over greater security. Even the privacy-aware might not be able to separate themselves from their job’s requirements. Use these tips to keep yourself as safe as possible, considering.

Alexander Fox Alexander Fox

Alexander Fox is a tech and science writer based in Philadelphia, PA with one cat, three Macs and more USB cables than he could ever use.

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