Google, DeleteTMFA!
February 11, 2012 5:03 AM   Subscribe

How can I make sure that Google deletes my phone number?

Gmail sign up requires a mobile phone number. Okay, I enter my number, intent on deleting it as soon as I'm signed up. But, I cannot find the mobile number listed anywhere.
(This method worked with my previous Gmailaccount. The mobile number was listed somewhere in the settings and I could delete it.)

Google's privacy policy says:
old policy: Google will only use your phone number to send you a verification code and to make sure it is not being used to create or verify a large number of accounts. We will never share your number or use it to send you unwanted messages. We promise.

new policy: We do not share personal information with companies, organizations and individuals outside of Google unless one of the following circumstances apply: [list of circumstances]

I don't want a promise to not use my number, I want my number removed!

Three part question:
1. I'm assuming Google has stored my number, because they haven't explicitly stated otherwise. Correct or too cautious?
2. Is there a way to delete my mobile number from my Gmail/Google account? (preferred solution)
2. If deleting my number isn't possible, will deleting my entire account ensure my mobile number will be deleted?
posted by lioness to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You can change the phone number associated with the account for recovery purposes in your profile--go to account settings and "change recovery options." I don't know whether (or why) they would keep previously supplied numbers.

If you can't delete it altogether, I'm sure you can change it to a fake number that is not real, i.e., 555-555-5555.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:10 AM on February 11, 2012

They'll still have it, for instance for 2-step verification. Change it to something fake if you want, but you're sunk if you forget your password.
posted by scruss at 5:12 AM on February 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

You'll probably never get it out of their databases. Companies have to keep data around for the authorities. The best you can probably do is change your phone number, disabling the old number (or at least detaching it from you).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:55 AM on February 11, 2012

Unfortunately for you, google will likely hold on to this data in some form or fashion forever.

If they're using the number to ensure that lots of accounts don't get verified with the same ones, they need to know which ones have been used for verification and how many times. Not sure that it would still be linked to your account in any way, but I doubt they wouldn't keep it. They're a data company, after all.

Also worth noting: if any one you give this number to use Google contacts to keep their address book, them storing your phone number and email address in the same contact gives Google that same amount of information.

Fortunately, there is almost no way this could really harm you.
posted by toomuchpete at 5:58 AM on February 11, 2012

Changing the number should be enough to dissociate the real one from your account. If you want to be extra-paranoid about it, consider changing it to a real-looking (i.e. not 555-xxxx) number that is not yours, and then to an entirely fake one, on the chance that they'd notice that you're using a fake number and check what it was changed from.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:00 AM on February 11, 2012

Gmail sign up requires a mobile phone number.

Odd. I created a new Gmail account just this week and was able to skip the phone number part completely. Admittedly, the "skip this part" link was tiny and easily missed.

I, too, doubt that Google ever completely deletes anything. I've had odd instance (with GoogleVoice) where calls in my History, that I am absolutely sure I "permanently deleted" suddenly reappear several days later.

They may hide it from your view, but I suspect that any information Google gathers remains stored somewhere deep in the bowels of MordorMountain View.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:08 AM on February 11, 2012

On checking, Thorzdad is correct. If you leave the phone-number field blank, Google will not complain.

"Having a mobile phone number on your account is one of the easiest and most reliable ways to help keep your account safe. Since you have physical possession of your phone, we can provide easier ways for you to get back into your account if you ever forget your password. And we can use it to challenge unusual accesses to your account. This field is optional, but strongly recommended if you have a mobile phone."
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:14 AM on February 11, 2012

> If you leave the phone-number field blank, Google will not complain.

They will bug you about it regularly at login, though.
posted by scruss at 6:54 AM on February 11, 2012

Buy a cheap $10 disposable phone. Use that number to sign up with. Or, in your case, change the number they have on file to that number.
posted by AugustWest at 7:59 AM on February 11, 2012

Once you put something on the internet, it's there forever.

Over simplistic, but also true. The minute you hit save it was written to their database. And it will still be there after you delete it. Changing it will make it inactive and probably encrypt it in a way that's more difficult to link to your account.
posted by sarahnicolesays at 9:11 PM on February 11, 2012

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