Google sent out an email earlier this week encouraging users to do a "privacy checkup." Specifically, the email tells users that the tool will help them go through "key privacy settings step-by-step to help you choose what's right for you."
I have feelings about this, but let's start with this question: Why should I have to do a privacy checkup? That implies that there's a chance that my information could be used in a way that I'm uncomfortable with. It's also the perfect example of why people simply don't trust large tech companies, which clearly have conflicts of interest when it comes to how your data is used.
What if, instead, Google simply didn't use my information in a way that requires me to do a privacy checkup? How about, instead of putting the burden on me to protect my privacy, Google simply does the right thing? Except, Google makes far too much money off of your personal information and online activity for that, so it has to find ways to make it seem like it's giving you control over how that information is used.
Of course, if you do nothing, Google will continue to monetize your data, which means you probably should go in and take a look at exactly how your information is being used. While you're at it, here are the three settings you should go and change right now. By the way, even if you didn't get the email, you can visit the Privacy Checkup page to get started.
Web & App Activity
It's not really a secret that Google tracks pretty much everything you do online, but when you stare at the volume of information the company is actually collecting, it's enough to make you a little disoriented. If you're signed in to your Google account, the company knows what you searched for, which websites you visited, which articles you read in Google News, and what app notifications you received on your Android device.
It probably goes without saying that I suggest you turn off Web & App Activity. Well, you can't actually "turn it off." Google allows you to "pause" activity. While the effect is the same, it's an interesting choice of language because Google clearly thinks you'll want to turn it back on at some point.
You can also choose the amount of time that Google saves this data by enabling the auto-delete feature. You can choose to leave this off (meaning nothing will be deleted), or choose to have your activity deleted after three or 18 months.
If it wasn't discomforting that Google knows everything you do online, how about the fact that if you have location history enabled, it also essentially knows everything you do offline. At least, if that includes traveling from one location to another. Every time you search for something in Google Maps, get directions, or travel, Google saves the exact route you take.
Just like your Web & App Activity, I strongly suggest turning this off if you have it enabled. I'll give Google credit that location history is now turned off by default for new accounts. The one drawback is that if you frequently travel to the same locations and have a collection of saved locations, you won't be able to store those with your location history turned off.
I also recommend turning off your YouTube activity, though for many people it's worth mentioning that there is some benefit to having it on. It does allow you to easily go back and find videos you previously watched, and YouTube obviously recommends videos based on your history. But that convenience comes at a cost, which is that Google is tracking everything you watch--including on YouTube TV. At a minimum, I suggest enabling the three-month auto-delete feature.