What Does Google Know About You?
Since Google started over 20 years ago, it has gradually grown to become a giant information sponge of the internet today. Google is basically everywhere, and they own many other services from YouTube to Android.
But this might not bother you in the slightest, after all, you have nothing to hide, right? For others, this blatant intrusion on your privacy is not only unethical but deeply troubling.
The right to privacy is an unalienable right and one you really should take more personal care over. It's likely you are very careful about telling other people, even your friends, everything about yourself.
Yet you may be happily sharing your deepest inner thoughts freely with Google whenever you search for your innermost thoughts with Google's search engines or products.
With such a vast pool of information companies like Google have access to, perhaps it's time for an internet Bill of Rights?
But we digress, in the following article we'll explore how Google is able to build a digital profile of you and how they use that to make money. We'll also explore if it's possible to de-Google your life.
Hold on this is about to get a little 'squeaky-bum.'
How does Google get your information?
In short, you gave it to them. They have been producing useful applications for decades and letting you use them for 'free.'
But remember there is no such thing as a free lunch - it's likely you are the product.
From Google's foundation, their mission statement has been "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." It is, therefore, unsurprising that Google has become more of an information gathering machine than a search engine over the last few decades.
It's questionable if this was Google's objective from the start or simply a consequence of how successful their method of indexing the web has become. Whatever the case, Google has morphed beyond all recognition since 1998.
If you use Google products they will have a long history of everything you have ever searched for on their search engine, watched on YouTube (yup they own that), what you look like, and access to every email you've ever sent or received on Gmail, and much more.
You could say they might just know you better than you know yourself. Scary stuff right?
But this information grabbing is not just confined to Google-only products, services, and apps. Google trackers have been found on more than 75% of the top million websites on the internet.
This means your precious data is constantly being siphoned off wherever you go on the internet - there is nowhere to hide. Any and all information they glean is also kept by them forever.
Conspiracy theories aside about how they are using the data, for the most part, it is used to profile you for better targeting of their ads. They are, after all, a company that makes a fortune on revenue from advertising.
Adwords, which launched in 2000, still remains Google's largest source of income. You don't even need to be using any of Google's products to be exposed to them.
Millions of blogs and other websites often contain adverts that help fund them by being paid to display adverts from Google. This is a common source of income for many sites, especially news sites and smaller personal blogs.
Google has come a long way from being a pure search engine. They are today, in effect, an enormous all-encompassing personal profiling and tracking company.
Does Google always track my location / GPS?
If you have an Android device Google is usually tracking things about you that you might not be aware of.
For example, they can record everywhere you ever been using Google Location Services.
Applications like Google Maps can also be used to track your 'to-ings' and 'fro-ings' throughout the day. Especially if you use it as a Sat Nav.
It is likely they know your home address, work address and regular commute route. They can gather information on the distance you've traveled in a day (driven and/or walked), which stores or restaurants you visit, and the amount of time spent there too.
All this is used to help them better target their ads to get your attention. For example, let's say you stop in at a car dealership, you might start noticing more car ads wherever you go on the internet.
But even if you wanted to use a Google Maps alternative like Waze, you might be shocked to know that Google also owns that. In fact, the data collected from apps like Google Maps and Waze have been used in the past to place a criminal at the scene of a crime.
Big Brother is watching you!
Can you delete your Google search history?
In theory yes, but think carefully about it before you do.
We should point out that Google is very transparent about what data it collects and stores about you. You can see for yourself on their "Your Data" page.
They tend to keep your name, email address, birthday, gender, phone number, and country. Other than that they collect data on what things you like, ads you click on, your location, device information, IP address, and cookie data.
They declare they do this to says it does this to "make [its] services work better for you." If you think about this logically they are not lying to you.
If you were to block everything Google collects about you they would be unable to tailor your online experience. Adverts you saw would be completely random and suggestions for videos on YouTube would also seem scattershot.
You are able to download all of their data, including photos, emails, contacts, bookmarks and more, so you can "copy, back it up or even move it to another service."
They do also promise that they keep all your data safe when recalling stored data between devices and their servers. Google also make assurances that any data stored on its cloud servers are protected.
They also say they do not allow governments to have "direct access" or "backdoor access" to any of your information. You can even check out their public transparency report for all requests and other issues that might affect its users.
But if you don't trust them or want to delete yourself from their servers it is, in theory, possible.
The first stage is to login into your Google account and head over to the "My Activity" page. From here you can see everything Google has on record about your internet activity.
Using this tool you can then download this information and analyze it, if desired, on your computer.
To then block Google from collecting data you will need to toggle the ad settings for your account. Go to your "Ads Settings" section of your Google account and turn Ad personalization off.
If you really want to remove all trace of yourself from Google's databank select the "Delete activity by" icon in your "My Activity" section.
Here you can select all data completely or just that for a given time period. Then just hit the delete button - goodbye Google!
But you should also make sure you completely de-Google-fy your life by never using Google products and services ever again.
You'll also want to delete all Gmail accounts, YouTube accounts and anything else that is affiliated with Google.
Does using VPN protect you from Google tracking?
VPNs or Virtual Private Networks, are a great and secure way to keep companies like Google from tracking you online. But they are not foolproof.
Not all are able to completely keep your data 100% yours but they can hide your IP address. Good ones will also encrypt your internet traffic and make your browsing history private.
This will at least keep some critical information about your security. But you will also need to not login into your google account or use any other Google services if you want them specifically to be prevented from collating your browsing history.
If you must use Google's search engine you might want to consider using the incognito option. Whilst also not foolproof, it won't stop Google's tracking bots on actual websites, for example, your history shouldn't show up in your browsing or search history.
There are many VPNs out there to choose from but be sure to check what they offer and what protection they actually offer. You should also check which, if any, actually work in the country you live in.
Some governments have actually prevented many from working.