How to View and Control Your Private Online Data

Lance Whitney

Here’s how to take charge of the information collected about you by technology companies.

Like many people, you probably have online accounts with Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, and companies.

We all know that these businesses monitor and store certain data about our online activities. But exactly what information do they have? And how can you review, modify, and remove it?

The process differs for each company, but the goal is the same. You want to be able to see what data is stored about you, clear any data you don’t want the companies to have, and restrict the type of data they can collect about you going forward.

This can be a time-consuming task as the companies don’t make the process quick and simple. But you should still make an effort to review the information being collected about you. Let’s check out the steps for four of the top tech players.


Using a Microsoft Account is handy as it gives you one set of credentials for Windows, Office, Skype, and other Microsoft apps and services. But that also means Microsoft collects a lot of information about you.

To review and modify all this data collection, sign into your Microsoft Privacy Dashboard. Review the description of each category to see which ones you want to check out. You can view and clear the data for your browsing history, search history, location activity, voice activity, media activity, and apps and service activity.

You can clear your product and service performance data, edit Cortana Notebook data, view LinkedIn connection settings, and edit your Microsoft Health data.

The section for other Privacy settings explains how to view and change the data collection for Windows, Office, Xbox, Skype, and other Microsoft apps and services, so you should review these as well.

For example, to change your data collection in Windows, go to Settings and then Privacy. To check your privacy options in Office, click on File, then Options, Trust Center, and then Trust Center Settings.

Back at the top of the Privacy Dashboard webpage, click on the link for Activity history to view all the data gathered by Microsoft about your online activities. You can then clear whatever data you choose.

You can review this data offline by selecting the link at the top to download your data and clicking on the button to Create New Archive. Next, click on the link at the top for Cortana’s Notebook to see the data collected about your interactions with Cortana.

Finally, click on the link for Ad settings to view and limit the types of ads you see based on your activity.


Those of you who use Gmail, Google Docs, Chrome, Google+, YouTube, Android, or other Google apps and services will want to see what information the search giant stores about your activities.

Go to the Google Privacy Checkup page and click the Start Now button. Under the section to Personalize your Google experience, you can review and turn off your Web & App Activity, Location History, Device Information, Voice & Audio Activity, YouTube Search History, and YouTube Watch History.

But don’t just turn off each setting right off the bat. Disabling certain Google privacy settings could affect your ability to use certain Google apps and features. Click on the Learn more link for each category to find out the ramifications of turning it off before you do so.

Next, move to the section for Manage what you share on YouTube to review and control your YouTube privacy.

The third section for Manage your Google Photos settings applies if you use Google Photos or if you use an Android device to snap photos.

The section for Help people connect with you allows or disallows people who know your phone number to find you in Google video chats and other services.

The fifth section for Choose what Google+ profile information you share with others helps you control any items you post on Google+. And the fifth section for Make ads more relevant to you offers a peek at the types of ads directed at your based on your behavior and lets you manage or turn off any ad preference you want to exclude.


If you use an iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, a Mac, iTunes, or other Apple products and services, then you’ll want to see the data gathered by the company.

You can review your privacy settings through your Apple ID from an iPhone or iPad, from a Mac, from iTunes, or from a webpage. Let’s check out the webpage. Browse and sign in to your Apple Account page.

In the Account section, you can view and edit your Apple ID, name, birthday, contact information, language, and country. In the Security section, you can change your password, edit your trusted phone numbers, enable two-factor authentication, and create app-specific passwords.

In the Devices section, you can review every device registered with your Apple ID, view details on each one, and remove ones you no longer use. In the Payment & Shipping section, you can view and revise your payment method and shipping address. In the Messages from Apple section, you can enable or disable specific emails from Apple. And in the Data & Privacy section, you can view Apple’s site about privacy, manage settings by enabling or disabling iCloud analytics, and manage your data and privacy options.


Are you one of the more than 2 billion people who use Facebook? Then you need to review your privacy settings, especially in light of past snafus, such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which an outside consulting firm scooped up the profile data of millions of members without their permission.

To get started, open Facebook, click on the question mark icon and select Privacy Checkup. At the first section for Posts, make sure only your friends can see your posts by default. At the second section for Profile, determine which information you want to be seen by friends and which you want visible only to you. And at the third section for Apps and websites, remove any apps you no longer need or use.

After your finish the Privacy Checkup, click on the down arrow next to the question mark icon and select Settings. Here, you can dive deep into each specific category and setting related to privacy. Review every category to see what information you wish to change. As one example, the section for Your Facebook Information lets you download a report of all the data Facebook has collected about you.

The section for Manage Blocking lets you block specific people from seeing your timeline or contacting you. The section for Apps and Websites lets you review any apps and games you’ve installed, limit the data they collect, and remove them completely. And the section for Ads lets you view and control the types of ads you see on Facebook.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2018-11-13: