Friday, August 28, 2015

How to delete your Google, YouTube histories - before midnight

Google's new unified privacy policy goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow, and you'll lose this option.

How to delete your Google, YouTube histories - before midnight

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Like it or not - and three dozen state attorneys general, among others, have serious doubts - Google's new, unified privacy policy goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. March 1 - whatever your time zone.  But there is something you can do today that you won't be able to do come midnight: delete the Google and YouTube search histories associated with your personal profile.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation offers handy step-by-step directions for erasing your search history here. And you can click here for instructions on deleting your YouTube search and viewing history.

Google has a page that explains how to clear the history from its various products.

Why might you want to? Maybe you don't. Perhaps you don't mind that Google just wants to cash in on all the data it's amassing about your Internet search and viewing habits. Lord knows a lot of companies are trying to do the same.

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For its part, Google is talking up the benefits of a simplified, unified privacy policy.  Via email, a Google spokeswoman said:  "Our updated Privacy Policy will make our privacy practices easier to understand, and it reflects our desire to create a seamless experience for our signed-in users. We’ve undertaken the most extensive notification effort in Google’s history, and we’re continuing to offer choice and control over how people use our services."

On the other hand, if you use Gmail and other Google services, it's fair to say that Google enjoys access to an extraordinary amount of data about you. Electronic Frontier says your YouTube habits "can reveal particularly sensitive information about you, including your location, interests, age, sexual orientation, religion, and health concerns."

As for your general search history, EFF warns:

Until now, your Google Web History (your Google searches and sites visited) was cordoned off from Google's other products. This protection was especially important because search data can reveal particularly sensitive information about you, including facts about your location, interests, age, sexual orientation, religion, health concerns, and more. If you want to keep Google from combining your Web History with the data they have gathered about you in their other products, such as YouTube or Google Plus, you may want to remove all items from your Web History and stop your Web History from being recorded in the future.

The letter from the attorneys general says:

On a fundamental level, the policy appears to invade consumer privacy by automatically sharing personal information consumers input into one Google product with all Google products. Consumers have diverse interests and concerns, and may want the information in their Web History to be kept separate from the information they exchange via Gmail. Likewise, consumers may be comfortable with Google knowing their Search queries but not with it knowing their whereabouts, yet the new privacy policy appears to give them no choice in the matter, further invading their privacy. It rings hollow to call their ability to exit the Google products ecosystem a “choice” in an Internet economy where the clear majority of all Internet users use – and frequently rely on – at least one Google product on a regular basis.

Maybe you don't believe you have the choice to stay away - not if Google has you hooked into its ecosystem, as it certainly has me.

But if you're concerned about everything it knows, or just don't want to see all its inferences about you in ads or offers, at least you can start tomorrow with a cleaner slate.

Inquirer Business Columnist
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About this blog

Jeff Gelles, who writes the Inquirer's weekly Consumer 14.0 and Tech Life columns, takes a broad look at the marketplace of goods, services, and ideas.

Reach Jeff at jgelles@phillynews.com.

Jeff Gelles Inquirer Business Columnist
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