Unless you meticulously avoid Google’s services, it’s likely that you end up using a lot of them every day. All this customer data powers Google’s advertising business and can seem creepy if you stop to think about it. To combat this image, Google has worked to provide transparency features so you can keep track of old searches and even delete entries. And on Wednesday it launched a new tool that combines data history from all of its services (search, YouTube, Chrome, etc.) in one place.
“My Activity” allows you to delete entries individually using custom date ranges, topics, or sorting by service. It also makes it easier to see other things Google knows about you, like devices associated with your Google account and location data. My Activity is rolling out to users over the next few days, and Wired reports that Google will keep expanding it over time to give users more and more control.
The feature also includes a new option for Google’s ad tracking. If enabled, it uses all this information from your Google account—search, Chrome, YouTube, the works—to improve the ads you see around the web. Google already uses this data to tailor the ads it shows within its own services, like Gmail, but now it would expand into your wider browsing on any site that uses Google’s ubiquitous AdSense service. It sounds like a privacy nightmare, but Google is marketing it as a good thing because it gives users more control over the ads they see on non-Google services. And the company chose to make this version of its ad tracking opt-in, so users will only have it enabled if they actually chose to turn it on.
For now, the new ad settings still seem like they give more benefit to Google than to users, but since they’re not mandatory and they come with increased transparency through My Activity, they mostly seem like a win. If you haven’t already gotten a notification from Google nudging you to revisit your security settings, you will soon and you should do what it says.