How to use Google's new privacy and security tools

Google stores, manages and sometimes sells an astonishingly large and complex amount of user data. Unfortunately, that digital information isn't always kept secure or private, but Google puts some degree of control in the hands of its users. To offer you a little more control, Google this week rolled out an updated online hub designed to help manage privacy settings, called My Account, as well as a pair of tools that streamline the process of safeguarding user data.

The My Account hub gives Google users more context on how and where their information is shared, when they can opt to remain private and the types of ads they see on Google or elsewhere online. Google redesigned My Account to display its many user settings in a more intuitive way, and the Security Checkup and Privacy Checkup tools show users how to control and manage some of the data they share with Google.

"Privacy and security are two sides of the same coin: if your information isn't secure, it certainly can't be private," wrote Guemmy Kim, a product manager at Google, in a blog post that details the changes. Google hopes to allay the concerns of its more than 1 billion users with its latest updates and new tools. Here's how to make Google's privacy and security tools work for you.

How to use Google's Privacy Checkup tool 

Google's Privacy Checkup tool offers a four-step process that walks you through the various privacy controls within Google's ever-widening domain. Privacy Checkup begins with Google+ social media profile information you share with others. To get started, click on the "see how your profile appears to the public" link at the top of the page and see if anything is amiss.

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You can then select the profile tabs -- photos, YouTube, +1 and reviews -- that you want to share publicly or with select circles on Google+ by clicking the boxes to the left. And you can scroll down further to see settings that let you show or block Google+ community posts on the Posts tab in your profile, or allow publicly-shared photos to be used on Google products or shared endorsements.

After you click on the blue "Done" button at the bottom of the page to proceed to step two, you can select the phone numbers you want to be publicly associated with your account. The numbers you choose allow Google+ users to connect with you on Google Hangouts and other services. You can also click on the "edit your phone numbers" link at the bottom of the page to add or remove numbers, and then click the blue "Done" button to proceed to step three.

The next step shows you the information Google saves but is only visible to you. You see a green check mark to the immediate left of each service and activity being stored, and you can click the down arrow on the right to display more information. To pause or enable an item, click the blue toggle slider that appears when each activity window is expanded.

After you make all the changes you want you should see a list of the disabled settings at the bottom of the page. If everything is the way you want it, you can click the blue "Done" button to confirm the changes and proceed to the final step of the Privacy Checkup tool.

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Unfortunately, Google kind of buries the "manage your ads settings" option, and you have to click a link to access it. Google makes the bulk of its revenue on advertising, so it's understandable why it might want to make it somewhat difficult to find the settings. If you click the link, you see a separate Google ads settings page for ads that appear on Google services and for other ads that follow you on the Web. You can opt out of interest-based ads, or ads that target users' perceived interests, by clicking the "opt in" or "opt out" links at the bottom of each column, and you can choose individual settings for gender, age, languages and interests.

Google also launched a related website that addresses various privacy issues and policies in a question-and-answer format.

How to use Google's Security Checkup tool

Google Security Checkup details four steps that can help users control their account recovery information, connected devices, permissions and Gmail settings. You can check your recovery information in the first step and edit or remove saved phone numbers and email addresses by clicking the "Edit" or "Remove" links to the right side of each point of contact.

After you click the blue "Done" button, you see a list of all the devices connected to your Google account. Google also specifies the device you're using to access and modify your settings. If you click the down arrow to the far right of each device, you see the location where that specific device last accessed your Google account. If you'd like to remove a device or make other changes, click on the gray "Something looks wrong" button at the bottom of the page. When everything is the way you want it, click the blue "Looks good" button.

The third step of Google's Security Checkup shows you all of the apps and websites that are connected to your Google account. If you don't recognize, use or trust any of them, click on the gray "Remove" button to the right to disconnect. Google also lists each app or website's level of access, and you can click the down arrow to the right of each to view more information, including when they were authorized.

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Google Security Checkup's final step lets you view your Gmail settings. Just click on the blue "Gmail settings" link to access your full settings. Next, when everything looks right, click the blue "Done" button one last time, and you're all set.

These Privacy and Security Checkup tools are Google's latest efforts to protect you and your personal information, and the company says it will continue to release additional privacy and security enhancements in the future. In the meantime, the redesigned My Account hub and two new checkup tools provide an easy and more intuitive way for users to understand and control the data they share with Google and its advertising network.

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