I downloaded all the data Google has about me and here’s what I found...
Here’s how you can do it too and what you can expect to find inside:
How to download my Google data
The process of getting all the information Google has collected from you is surprisingly easy.
- Step 1. From a device with your Google account logged on, go to Google Takeout.
- Step 2. Select the Google products you want to see the data from. Click/tap on “Next Step” when you’ve made your selection.
- Step 3. Choose the frequency of the exports. You can select either a one-time export or regular exports every 2 months for a year.
- Step 4. Choose the file type and maximum file size.
- Step 5. Click/tap “Create export”.
Depending on the amount of data you have, Google warns it might take hours to create your export. In my case, the exports were ready after several minutes. I got two exports, one with my Google Photos data, which ended up being 32GB and one without, which was 18GB. Choosing a larger file size on Step 4 will make the process simpler as you'll have fewer files to download and unzip.
Given the large size, the exports are understandably kept only for a week, after that you’ll have to request a new one.
Keep in mind that what you’re getting is just the raw data coming from you. What deductions Google’s algorithms have made about you based on that data and how it’s used to tailor ads and content to you is something that remains a secret.
How is the Google data structured?
After you unzip your exports, you’ll see folders for all the Google products you’ve selected to get the data for. If you went for smaller zip sizes, the first one or two archives will have the most folders, after that you’ll get just the ones that have more data.
Unfortunately, files from the same services seem to be separated between different parts of the export following no human logic. If you have 20 pictures taken within the same time-frame, the first 5 and last 5 might be in one of the archives while the other 10 can be separated in two or three others. That’s why it might be better to go for one huge file and save yourself the hassle of having the data separated randomly.
So, with that out of the way, let’s dive into the data itself!
What can you find in your Google data?
Google has tens of different services but there’s no need to go through all of them to get an idea of the scope of the information that’s been gathered. Instead, I’ll mention some of the more interesting finds of my search.
Naturally, we start with Google’s most important service: Search. Unsurprisingly, every Google search you’ve made has been recorded with a date and a time. If you’ve searched from your phone, there might be an approximate location added to the entry as well.
The same is valid for image search and sound search. You can listen to recordings of your voice or songs that you’ve tried to look up the names of using Google’s AI. Thanks to that, Google has a rich collection of recordings of me asking for the results of my favorite team's last game in a sleepy voice.
Here you can find anything from when you’ve just opened the Maps app to when you’ve looked up certain areas, answered questions about a location or reviewed a place. The detail of Google Maps' tracking was useful to me once when I had to remember what I did on the day I had a charge on my card that I didn't recognize.
More interesting data about your activities can be found in the “Location History” folder. The files in it are separated into months and contain the raw data of your location with coordinates, timestamps and more importantly, the probabilities Google has assigned to the various activities you might be doing at that time.
I noticed that in the older files, the number of possible activities was very large, including unusual ones like:
It seems with time, Google decided to take things more seriously, and in my 2020 files, the types of activities were narrowed down to the most common ones like:
However, SKIING was still an option, so I decided to check how good Google is at guessing what we’re actually doing. I opened the January file since that’s when I went snowboarding and started looking through the entries. Sure enough, there were multiple entries with SKIING probability between 50 and 90%. Well done, Google!
On the other hand, among the files, I noticed that CYCLING has gotten the highest probability numerous times yet I haven’t ridden a bicycle in years. So, I guess there’s still room for improvement.
Google Play Store
The Play Store data includes among other things, what apps you’ve searched for, which apps you’ve installed and when, as well as when you’ve uninstalled them. Meanwhile, Google Play Games shows every time you’ve played a game that used Google’s login option.
It’s worth noting here that I rarely use Chrome with my personal account, so the data in the ads folder was almost entirely gathered from my phone use. The list includes every time Google has shown me an ad and which app I was using. Of course, date and time are present as always. The content of the ad itself isn’t mentioned.
By now, you should know what to expect. YouTube subscriptions, likes, searches, videos watched, playlists made, comments and so on, Google keeps everything.
This is a curious one. It has a list of the cards that have been shown to you each day and their topics, as well as which ones you’ve viewed and which you’ve dismissed. The location of where you’ve been at the time is also included. Every time you tap on the button under the articles that lets you choose to show more or less of the same topic will be noted as well.
Some other things worth mentioning:
- All your Google Assistant prompts are also kept and you can listen to the audio files.
- Your Google Keep lists are kept as well but just their last-saved state.
- Google Lens searches but just time and date, no images of what you’ve had your camera pointed at.
- Podcasts subscriptions and when you’ve listened to a podcast and which one, but no information about the exact episode.
- Reminders, including what you were reminded of and when.
And much more, but you get the idea.
In short, almost every input you’ve made in a Google product has been recorded one way or another. And on top of that, a bunch of data you’re passively broadcasting is stored as well. As I said earlier, that’s just what we’re allowed to see. The picture that Google has assembled from these pieces is the truly interesting part but that’s something I’ll probably never get to see.
So, how does all that make me feel? Obviously, given my job, I’m not exactly an average user. Knowing what I know from my experience with phones and tech in general, I was well prepared for what to expect. I’ve been part of Google’s Local Guides program for a while so the daily prompts to rate something or answer questions remind me that my every move is being tracked. This means I’ve more or less accepted that Google will often know more about my actions than I do myself.
Others will surely find the extent to which Google is hoarding data intrusive or even creepy. Some of you are probably disabling features while still reading these paragraphs. Which is why I decided to write this article in the first place. The vast majority of users take their device and use it without ever thinking about what’s going on behind the scenes.
Well, if you’re in the latter group, now you know! Embrace the reality of the digital age or start looking for a cabin in the mountains.