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What does Google know about me?
12th January, 2021 |
As such an integral part of many tech lovers’ everyday lives, Google is undoubtedly one of the biggest and most powerful companies in the world. From web search, emails and apps to Android, YouTube, Nest and Waze, Google has it all. Indeed, just as with its rival Apple it’s possible to go through life without ever leaving its ecosystem.
Owing to its ubiquitous nature, there have been worries for years from both inside and outside the tech industry at the amount of personal data Google holds. It’s not just privacy campaigners who have become concerned about what the tech giant knows about our lives.
The sheer amount of data Google collects is simply astounding. Read our guide to find out what Google knows, or thinks it knows, about you.
Protecting your personal data is only one concern of 21st Century phone users. Obtaining the best mobile phone or insurance for an iPhone is also vital.
How does Google collect data?
You’ll be pleased to hear there’s nothing nefarious about how Google goes about gathering data on its billions of users. It’s pretty straightforward. It needs your data in order to provide you with more accurate searches, local information and advertisements relevant to you.
They do this by simply storing every last bit of information you give to them whilst using their services. Over the years, this goldmine of information becomes a lengthy historical record of your searches, activities and interests.
So, which of the Google services might you be using and how are they collecting data through them?
Handling more than 5 billion searches a day the market-leading web search juggernaut keeps a history of every single search you've done on the web! This alone would be a phenomenal amount of useful information for advertisers but when it’s paired with Google’s other products, it’s mind boggling.
Accounting for more than half of all web traffic, Google Chrome is probably the best web browser available. So, even if you didn’t end up at a website through Google Search, the web giant will still know as it keeps a history of every website you've visited.
Acquired by Google in 2006, online video-sharing platform YouTube tracks the searches you’ve done and keeps a record of every video you've watched. With an estimated 5 billion videos watched on the platform per day that’s a lot of data. They can’t all still be watching Baby Shark Dance!
If you’ve ever tried to make your way to a restaurant or bar in an unfamiliar part of town chances are you’ve used Google’s web mapping service. Planning your route, checking for real-time traffic conditions or the host of other functions will all give Google access to your GPS location.
While we’re on the subject of navigation you might be surprised to hear that Google also owns this popular Google Maps alternative. Waze uses crowd-sourcing to help guide drivers turn-by-turn and give them accurate travel times and route details. All of which goes straight to Google.
Even if you don’t use Google Maps or Waze then never fear – Google is already tracking your Android phone through your mobile operating system. While it’s at it, Android is also storing your messages and keeping up to date on your latest app usage. Whether you’re partial to Crossy Road or Candy Crush, Google will be kept updated about your guilty pleasures!
This contains a host of cloud computing, productivity and collaboration tools and software products from Google. These include Gmail, Hangouts, Calendar, and Currents for communication; Drive for storage; and Docs for productivity and collaboration. It also includes Jamboard, the interactive whiteboard system developed by Google.
Unlike the free, consumer-facing services above, users of Google Workspace aren’t targeted with advertisements while using the services. Indeed any information and data derived from Google Workspace accounts do not get used for advertisement purposes.
What about iPhone users?
Even if you’re a loyal Apple enthusiast, Google can still collect information on you. While you won’t have Android and related programmes installed on your flashy iPhone you might have installed various Google apps. If you have, then Google is busy collecting data on you, too. Want to upload something to YouTube while you're out on an adventure? Then Google will soon get to know about it.
If you are using your iPhone to record your latest vlog then make sure you have iPhone insurance in place to protect you from damage, theft and loss.
How Google works with advertisers
Unfortunately there are few things in modern life that come for free, including technology. Google provides an amazing array of free services or information. But it needs paid advertisements to be able to do that.
While providing you with services Google also tries to connect:
- People who own websites which have advertising space.
- People who want to promote a product or service.
- People who think the product or service is interesting.
Google is keen to point out:
- Your personal information is not sold to anyone.
- Websites hosting advertisements can only see information you allow Google to share.
- Advertisers can only see how well their ads are performing.
What does Google know about you?
You might be feeling a little concerned by just how much information you are giving away at every moment. Does Google really know so much about you? While we have become used to a world of constant surveillance, we don’t always consider how far it really impinges upon our private lives.
If you’re curious to find out how much Google really knows you (and who isn’t!) then it’s relatively easy. Google doesn’t jealously guard your data. Indeed, they’re more than happy to provide you with a packet of all the data they hold on you.
Perhaps the prime source of Google data will be derived from their search engine. Google uses this information to make a personal profile of their users. This is then used to deliver advertisements relevant to you.
Here’s how to find your Google profile:
- Go to your Google account homepage.
- Go to ‘Privacy and Personalisation’ and click on ‘Manage your data and personalisation’.
- Scroll down to ‘Ad Personalisation’ and click on ‘Go to ad settings’.
- A link will then appear of ‘how ads are personalised to you’. Here Google tells you what it thinks it knows about you based on your searches and information you have given to it. These factors include your age, gender, marital status, parental status, and personal interests. Choose any factor to learn more and update your preferences. This will only work if ‘ad personalisation’ is turned on. You can turn this feature on or off at any time.
Once you’ve turned off ad personalisation Google will no longer use your information to provide personalised ads. You can still be targeted with ads using information like your general location or the content of the website you’re visiting.
Each Google Account has its own ad settings. So, if you have multiple accounts, your ad settings will be unique to each account.
While Google Search is a mine of information about you, there are many other sources for you to investigate. These include:
Web Activity History - This will include both websites visited and searches performed. To check this, do the following:
- Go to your Google account homepage.
- Use the left navigation panel and click on ‘Data & Personalisation’.
- On the ‘Activity and Timeline’ panel, click ‘My Activity’.
- Here you can browse through your activity organised by day and time. You can see and delete activity using controls on the page.
Location History - This navigation page also has links to the Location History data Google keeps on you. This information is usually more thorough for Android users than iPhone users and can be turned off and on here.
YouTube History - This can also be viewed and deleted from here.
Web & App Activity - Review which apps and websites are using your Google credentials for your sign-in or accessing information from your Google services.
If you want to discover everything that Google keeps on you then your final option is to download a data archive. To do this you need to:
- Log in to Google Takeout through your Google account.
- Go to the ‘download your data’ page. This will list the Google services that have your data. These will all be automatically selected. If you don’t want to download data from a certain service then uncheck the box next to it.
- Choose how you want your archive to be delivered. This can be a download link sent to an email address, or a file added to Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive or Box account.
- Choose whether you want it to be a one-time archive or a series of scheduled exports. By choosing scheduled exports you’ll receive updated archives every two months over the course of a year.
- Choose whether you want it as a Zip file or a Tgz file. Also select the archive size. If the archive is too big Google will send it as multiple archives.
- Google will email you a link to download your data archive. Depending on the amount of information in your account the process can take from a matter of minutes to a matter of days.
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How to stop Google collecting your data
Google makes it quite straightforward to control the data it collects on its users. In many cases you can simply ask Google not to store data about you. The most popular ways to do this are:
- Through the ‘Data & Personalisation’ section of your Google account. Here you can easily edit your Activity controls. Google lets you opt out of location tracking, web and app activity, device information, audio activity, and YouTube search and watch history.
- You can also take a Privacy Check from your Google account and make changes through that. This step-by-step guide helps you choose the privacy settings right for you.
- Google Analytics is a service Google provides to help analyse website visitors. You can opt out from Google sharing your information when visiting websites using the service.
To reduce the amount of data Google collects, you can install Firefox or another web browser for your general internet use. By never signing into Google through that browser you reduce the link back to your account.
As a last resort and if you really don’t want Google collecting any of your data then you need to stop using their products and services. This isn’t easy to do but if you are vigilant it can be achieved. Simply switching from an Android phone to an iPhone will take you out of a large part of the Google ecosystem. Then install the Firefox or Safari browser and begin using services like DuckDuckGo and WolframAlpha instead of Google Search.
If you do take the plunge and move from Android to iPhone make sure you arrange iPhone insurance to take care of your change in tech. After all, the latest iPhones can be expensive and very desirable to thieves.
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Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.