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Privacy & Security

Top questions you ask Google about privacy across our products

hey Google

“Hey Google, I have some questions…” 

Privacy and security is personal. It means different things to different people, but our commitment is the same to everyone who uses our products: we will keep your personal information private, safe, and secure. We think everyone should be in the know about what data is collected, how their information is used, and most importantly, how they control the data they share with us.

Here are some of the top questions that people commonly ask us:

Q. Is Google Assistant recording everything I say?

No, it isn’t.

Google Assistant is designed to wait in standby mode until it is activated, like when you say, "Hey Google" or "Ok Google". In standby mode, it processes short snippets of audio (a few seconds) to detect an activation (such as “Ok Google”). If no activation is detected, then those audio snippets won’t be sent or saved to Google. When an activation is detected, the Assistant comes out of standby mode to fulfill your request. The status indicator on your device lets you know when the Assistant is activated. And when it’s in standby mode, the Assistant won’t send what you are saying to Google or anyone else. To help keep you in control, we're constantly working to make the Assistant better at reducing unintended activations.

To better tailor Google Assistant to your environment, you can now adjust how sensitive your Assistant is to the activation phrase (like 'Hey Google') through the Google Home app for smart speakers and smart displays. We also provide controls to turn off cameras and mics, and when they’re active we’ll provide a clear visual indicator (like flashing dots on top of your device).

Deleting your Google Assistant activity is easy, by simply using your voice. Just say something like, “Hey Google, delete this week’s activity”, or “Hey Google, delete my last conversation”, and Google Assistant will delete your Assistant activity. This will reflect on your My Activity page, and you can also use this page to review and delete activity across the Google products you use. And if you have people coming over, you can also activate a “Guest Mode” on Google Assistant – Just say, “Hey Google, turn on Guest Mode,” and your Google Assistant interactions will not be saved to your account. 

Q. How does Google decide what ads it shows me? How can I control this?

The Ads you see can be based on a number of things, such as your previous searches, the sites you visit, ads clicked, and more.

For example, you may discover that you are seeing a camera ad because you’ve searched for cameras, visited photography websites or clicked on ads for cameras before. The 'Why this ad?' feature helps you understand why you are seeing a given ad. 

Data helps us personalise ads so that they're more useful to you, but we never use the content of your emails or documents, or sensitive information like health, race, religion or sexual orientation, to tailor ads to you.

It is also easy to personalize the kinds of ads that are shown to you, or even disable ads personalization completely. Visit your Ad Settings page.

Q. Are you building a profile of my personal information across your products, for targeting ads?

We do not sell your personal information — not to advertisers, not to anyone. And we don’t use information in apps where you primarily store personal content — such as Gmail, Drive, Calendar and Photos — for advertising purposes.

We use information to improve our products and services for you and for everyone. And we use anonymous, aggregated data to do so.

A small subset of information may be used to serve you relevant ads (for things you may actually want to hear about), but only with your consent. You can always turn these settings off.

It is also important to note that you can use most of Google’s products completely anonymously, without logging in -- you can Search in incognito mode, or clear your search history; you can watch YouTube videos and use Maps. However, when you share your data with us we can create a better experience with our products based on the information shared with us.

Q. Are you reading my emails to sell ads?

We do not scan or read your Gmail messages to show you ads. 

In fact, we have a host of products like Gmail, Drive and Photos that are  designed to store your personal content, and this content is never used to show ads. When you use your personal Google account and open the promotions or social tabs in Gmail, you'll see ads that were selected to be the most useful and relevant for you. The process of selecting and showing personalized ads in Gmail is fully automated. The ads you see in Gmail are based on data associated with your Google Account such as your activity in other Google services such as YouTube or Search, which could affect the types of ads that you see in Gmail. To remember which ads you've dismissed, avoid showing you the same ads, and show you ads you may like better, we save your past ad interactions, like which ads you've clicked or dismissed. Google does not use keywords or messages in your inbox to show you ads – nobody reads your email in order to show you ads.

Also, if you have a work or school account, you will never be shown ads in Gmail.

You can adjust your ad settings anytime. Learn more about Gmail ads.

Q. Why do you need location information on Maps?

If you want to get from A to B, it’s quicker to have your phone tell us where you are, than to have you figure out your address or location. Location information helps in many other ways too, like helping us figure out how busy traffic is. If you choose to enable location sharing, your phone will send anonymous bits of information back to Google. This is combined with anonymous data from people around you to recognise traffic patterns.

This only happens for people who turn location history on. It is off by default. If you turn it on, but then change your mind, you can visit Your Data in Maps -- a single place for people to manage Google account location settings.

Q. What information does Google know about me? How do I control it?

You can see a summary of what Google services you use and the data saved in your account from your Google Dashboard. There are also powerful privacy controls like Activity Controls and Ad Settings, which allow you to switch the collection and use of data on or off to decide how all of Google can work better for you.

We’ve made it easier for you to make decisions about your data directly within the Google services you use every day. For example, without ever leaving Search, you can review and delete your recent search activity, get quick access to relevant privacy controls from your Google Account, and learn more about how Search works with your data. You can quickly access these controls in Search, Maps, and the Assistant.

Privacy features and controls have always been built into our services, and we’re continuously working to make it even easier to control and manage your privacy and security. But we know that the web is a constantly evolving space, where new threats and bad actors will unfortunately emerge. There will always be more work to be done, and safeguarding people who use our products and services every day will remain our focus. 

For more on how we keep you and your information private, safe and secure visit the Google Safety Center.