Google tracks and collects a ton of data about us. You may also store some of your data in Google Drive, Google Photos, or Gmail. Google Takeout is an export tool that allows you to download your data for local storage or transfer it to another service.
You're more likely to have heard of this useful tool if you're working for a business, organization, or educational institution. It's commonly used to transfer an employee's data to another Google Account when they leave the company. It's also a quick way to download data from Google Drive for regular local storage redundancy or to free up Drive space by archiving old files.
Why use Google Takeout?
Google Takeout isn't only for large organizations. It's a free tool that anyone can use. Google provides so many cheap or free services that you're almost guaranteed to have some data on at least one of their platforms.
You might wonder what kind of data Google keeps on you. If you sign in to your Google Account and go to the Google Takeout home page, you'll see the most up-to-date list. There are currently 54 different sources of data you can choose to include in your export. That's probably more than you thought and includes things like:
- Data from the most familiar products, such as Gmail, Drive, Chrome, Photos, and YouTube.
- Data about your activity in Google Play Store, Play Books, Play Games Services, and Play Movies & TV.
- Your account's access log activity.
- Your locations and settings from Location History.
- Your Google cloud search history.
- Your Android device's configuration data.
- Data from your smart home devices like the Google Nest Hub.
It can be interesting to sort through the data Google has on you and see what they've tracked, but it's not the only reason you might use Google Takeout. There are alternatives for almost every Google product, and maybe you decided to switch to another platform. Some products you might transfer data to could be a new task list app to replace Google Tasks, a new Shopping Lists app for your grocery trips, or one of the many alternatives to Gmail for your email.
You could also stay on Google's platform and migrate your data to a new account. Maybe you've decided to consolidate everything to a single account, switch to a business account, or perhaps it's time to retire that cringe email address you've had since high school.
Google Takeout makes all that fairly easy, but it can sometimes get a little complicated if you're using Google Workspace. You can find instructions on how to use Google Takeout to migrate your data out of Google Workspace.
What is the Google Data Liberation Front, and is Google Takeout safe to use?
Google Takeout is an official Google product developed by a team at Google called Google Data Liberation Front. It might sound like a hacking group or a rogue software engineering team that's fighting to free you from Google's clutches. Google believes that customers should be able to opt out of Google products while still being able to transfer their data to other products easily.
Google Data Liberation Front is an engineering team born at Google Chicago in 2009. Google Takeout was their first product, and after four years of development, it was released in 2011. The team's sole purpose is to ensure that data migration and portability are easy options if you or a company stop using their services.
Although it's becoming more common for other online platforms to offer export tools, some companies attempt to keep users by making it hard or impossible for them to get their data. Imagine exporting all your photos individually instead of downloading them all at once. The Data Liberation Front believes you should own your data, not the companies or products you use.
That's all pretty cool, right? Well, the Google Data Liberation Front took it even further. In 2017, they formed the Data Transfer Project, an open source initiative to improve data portability between multiple online platforms. Because of this project, you can easily transfer your photos and videos from Facebook to Google Photos. The project is currently partnered with Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and Apple.
Google Takeout is safe to use, provided you don't have a security risk on your end. Google looks to see if your actions seem risky. Google protects your account by delaying your actions or making them unavailable. It then sends you a warning email.
Issues to keep in mind when using Google Takeout
Google Takeout wouldn't be that useful if you could only download your documents as Google Docs or your spreadsheets as Google Sheets. When you do this, like if you migrate your data to another Google account, you essentially get a bunch of 1KB files that can only be reopened with Google Docs.
Google Takeout gives you the option for multiple formats when selecting the products you want to export. For example, Google Docs can be exported as DOCX and PDF, common formats that are generally easy to open. Takeout doesn't support all the formats you can export to if you're downloading individual files. Whereas you only have two choices when exporting from Takeout, Google Docs can be downloaded in seven file formats from the File menu of your document.
Sometimes these converted exports get a little messy, like having your text formatting be off, but Takeout mostly does a good job with files like Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Gmail labels, on the other hand, do not export as well. Although each message's labels are saved in a special X-Gmail-Labels header in your downloaded files, no other mail clients currently recognize that header.
Permissions can be an issue with Takeout. Something you never want to run into is the disappointment of not being able to access that important collaboration project document from years ago because it's owned by someone else and not you. You'll want to be certain that any project Docs, Sheets, or other Google formats you do not own are saved individually.
Recent changes may also not be included in your downloaded archive. This happens when changes are made to your data between when you request a download and when the archive is created. This can include a file's sharing type or permissions in Drive, some comments in Google Docs, and photos or albums you added or deleted. So keep this in mind when exporting your archive.
If you're working for a company or other organization, the Google Workspace admin can control who can and cannot use Google Takeout. If the admin does not allow Takeout as a service, you won't see the option to export or the service in the app menu. Admins can also choose what you can and cannot export. If they've restricted data export permissions for specific services like Drive, Gmail, Calendar, or Contacts, those services won't appear as Takeout export options.
Take control of your data
Whether you're exporting your data as a backup, migrating it to another account or service, or want to see what data Google has on you, they've made the process simple for regular people.
When it comes to businesses or other organizations, the export process is still relatively easy. It's the data recovery and reorganization that can be some heavy lifting for the IT admin. Business continuity can feel like an uphill battle when you're sorting through different files across multiple zip archives, some of which split up the files that were previously within a single folder in Drive. Putting this back in order can become a huge task.
It's great that Google has been paving the way for data migration and data portability. You should own and have access to all your personal data. Thanks to the Google Data Liberation Front, that's becoming more of a possibility.