Have you ever considered how much data google collects and stores about you? You probably should, it's quite terrifying.
This little article was inspired by a Netflix documentary "terms and conditions may apply". I'm no expert, just someone with an interest in what data is being collected about me so thought I'd write something to get people thinking.
It's worth mentioning Facebook and others aren't much better, but I've focused this article on Google.
So, first and foremost the obvious data and information which most people freely hand over without thinking twice.
Your full name, your gender, your age, your email, and your phone number.
If you read the terms and conditions (which I appreciate no one does), you're also giving them the right to access information on your physical appearance when you upload pictures on Google Photos. By using this you give Google the opportunity to use its facial recognition algorithm and find out how you look, the more you upload (most people I know use Google photos as a back up), the more accurate image profile they can build.
Moving on, Google Assistant needs to know what you sound like to provide a good service. if you've agreed to using this Google have an accurate voice and speech profile of you. What's to stop them recording all your conversations (paranoid maybe, but Google assistant needs to be listening all the time for when you do say "OK Google ").
Now, the bits that maybe some people don't consider, Gooogle’s primary business model is based around data mining and predicting our behaviour. To do this effectively they need an in depth understanding of our interests, hobbies, internet usage, and online social interactions. To assist their data mining, they use almost every platform they can to collect information on your likes and dislikes.
Just as an example, Google can accurately detail most of the following on 90% of their users:
- Favourite books, films, TV series.
- Your taste in music.
- Favourite foods.
- Religious beliefs.
- Political views.
- Shopping habits.
- Places you enjoy to visit, and how often you visit them.
- Favourite sports.
- Even how physically active you are if you use Google fit.
This data creates an accurate user profile for each and every one of their users. They can then monetize this by targeted ads as well as selling your data profile to third parties.
So, what’s wrong with targeted ads? Is it that bad? Your user profile can be used to influence your decisions on:
- Shopping, both where and what you buy.
- What you watch, read, and listen to.
- Who you vote for.
It also puts you in a potential ‘filter bubble’ or 'echo chamber'. Google will target search results to only show you information that fits your profile, stuff they think you'll like. If you dont like the sound of this, you can change your ad preferences and turn off targeted ads in your Google settings.
Google also knows exactly where most users are every second of the day. Apps like Google Maps and Waze require access to your GPS and by turning on 'location services' you agree to let Google record and store this data. Even disabling location tracking on the obvious apps doesn’t mean that Google will stop tracking your location completely. They use other features hidden deep in your settings called Web & App activity. This can send Google timestamps indicating your location whenever you use any Google-owned services or apps on any of your devices.
Google Photos can also aid Google in tracking your geographic location by grouping your photos into albums and analysing your photos’ metadata and geolocation. This creates an even more accurate timeline of where you’ve been.
From this geo location data, and/or location services Google can build an accurate picture of some of the following.
- Where you live
- Where you work (assuming it's the same office you go to everyday)
- Where you've been on holiday, and if you have a favourite holiday location.
- where friends and family live.
- Also, if they want to... often you visit your local bar or pub?? Combine this with Google pay which you used to buy your drink they know how much alcohol you drink??
They don't stop at knowing every single thing about you, they also want to know who your friends and family are.
Google can also profile their users relationships with each other. By using a combination of some of the things I've already mentioned above they can build up an accurate picture of everyone you interact with, family, friends, colleagues, etc. Even your pets!
Remember, Google own YouTube, so everything you search and watch videos about on YouTube is also recorded. Your video history can say as much about you as your Google search – your interests, your future plans, holiday destinations, etc.
Other things I've not mentioned above but provide Google with even more data points include:
- Google Calendar, often shared with family and friends.
- Gmail and all your contacts assuming your gave permission to gmail to access your phone book.
- Ads you've viewed or purchased from.
Its estimated that Google hold an adverage of approximately 20GB of data on you that you probably aren't aware of.
And, unless you tell them otherwise, they'll hold onto all your data even if you die!! You can edit your profile to remove your data after several months of inactivity but most users don't even know this feature exists.
So, What can you do to have some element of privacy online?
- Use private focused browsers such as brave, firefox, or epic. Or if you want absolute privacy you could consider TOR (note; TOR is slow for day to day use).
- Which ever browser you use, always use incognito or private mode.
- Use a privacy focused search engine such as duckduckgo.com
- Consider different browsers for different elements of your life, this makes it harder to tie everything you do together. EG: general internet searches on brave, social media on firefox, online shopping on vivaldi, internet banking on epic. Not necessarily like this, but you get the idea. Just keep things separate.
- Adjust your Google account’s privacy settings to decline permissions to as much as you can.
- Regularly delete your history and cookies.
Maybe I'm just a little paranoid but I cant help feeling Google know us better than we know ourselves!!
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