Wading Through Google Takeout
The tool for downloading your Google data is called Takeout, which was released in 2008. Go to google.com/takeout and select the information you want to download. You can choose everything or home in on certain things, like your location history from Google Maps, your email conversations in Gmail, your viewing history on YouTube and photos you have uploaded into Google Photos.
If you download your whole archive, your file will probably be enormous. Mine was eight gigabytes, enough to hold about 2,000 hours of music. After I requested my archive, it took Google about half a day to send an email with links to download my files.
Here’s what jumped out to me:
• The most noteworthy folder is labeled My Activity, which is an overview of what you have done on Google’s products, including Android, Google Maps and Google News.
Inside My Activity is a subfolder labeled Ads. This record contained a history of many websites I had visited, including those I had reached without the help of Google.com. Even sites I opened through Twitter or links I clicked on through a text message were recorded in the Ads folder.
What gives? Google said that many web articles load advertisements served through its ad network, and when you visit sites loading Google ads, you are contributing to an advertisement-related profile that Google is building about you. That’s why it’s logged in the My Activity folder.
In my conversations with Google, the company argued that it was better to be transparent about the information being collected as opposed to not showing it at all.
Brian Fitzpatrick, the former Google manager who led the team that created Takeout, put it another way. “Companies are gathering this data about you,” he said. “This is just an honest way to look at it.”