Remember that time when you thought about taking a cruise and you saw an ad for cruises on a website a few hours ago? We've all heard the anecdotal evidence, but what does Google actually have on us?
Google, our favorite tech giant, is known to all. It’s everywhere. There’s barely any avoiding it. Why would we want to avoid it, though? The reasons to love it are many: it makes life seamless, simply, easy, and fun. Unfortunately, being an avid Google user (you probably are whether you realize it or not), comes with some tradeoffs: 1) for all that convenience you lose some privacy and 2) for free services you need to yield some data. Google has a pretty robust profile on each user quite similar to Facebook’s shadow profiles, but with even more depth. At least after Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica fiasco in March 2018 Google took a step up and became ultra transparent and gave its users quite a bit of control (if users wanted to take the time to take advantage of it). Everything you have to give up in exchange for the convenience creates the love/hate relationship of the century, or at least the decade.
There’s no avoiding Google apps
Do you realize how many apps you use from which Google is amassing data on you? The obvious ones have Google’s name in it, but there are other apps Google owns that you may have forgotten. There’s:
- Google Drive with all your files that you can easily access from anywhere;
- your email account through Gmail (maybe you even have two: work and personal);
- your Google calendar where you’ve scheduled everything for weeks to come and have an entire history of what you’ve done in the past and where you’ve done it;
- Google Hangouts;
- Google Photos which has friends, colleagues, and locations tagged;
- Google maps where you’ve entered places you need to drive to;
- Google Fit which tracks your health;
- Google Chrome which knows every search you’ve ever entered revealing fears, interests, plans, political persuasions, and more.
Don’t forget the applications Google has purchased: YouTube and Waze. Starting to get a picture of how much of your daily life revolves around Google? How do you feel about that? Additionally, any app that you have signed in to using you Google credentials will be sending Google information, and most websites you access use Google Analytics, as well. And then, of course, what Google doesn’t have, they can get; they actually have access to 70% of credit and debit card expenses through third-parties. While the most affected people are Android users, and not iPhone users, no one is left untouched.
Google knows more than your best friend
Having all this data means they’ve been able to develop a fairly robust profile of ⅓ of the global population. By getting little bits of information here and there they now know your name, date of birth, relationships (who you talk to, email, know, and talk about), where you work, where you live, visit, and travel, what you like and dislike, your plans for the future, everything you have ever searched online, how healthy you are, and more. Essentially, Google knows you better than anyone—even the stuff you’d like to keep private. What this comes down to for me is that Google knows my age, that I’m a female, that I am frugal to the max, I’m a runner, hopelessly addicted to anything financial, what I do for work, large purchases I plan on making in the near future, that I love gourmet cooking and restaurants, and that I spend my weekends exploring the great outdoors.
How the data helps us and them
With great power comes great responsibility. We need to get something out of Google (other than just a free service or two) if they are going to be making money off of our data. Google is awesome at interpreting the data we give them access to and drawing conclusions from it. They’ve mastered this game. All our data helps them help businesses make informed decisions on which ads to show us and improve our experiences in the apps we use. They don’t sell our data directly and don’t give the government access, but the solid advertising profile they have created on each person is sold for approximately $12/person. Based on the keywords of your search you are shown relevant ads within seconds, and when you click on an ad it gets stored in an AdWords account forever.
Google can read your emails. It’s not all bad, though.
Some of the most private things about you can be found in your email exchanges. The worst thing would be for another human to read them. Thankfully Google just uses AI and machine learning. They used to scan emails for content to personalize ad experiences, and while they doesn’t do this anymore, they still scan emails to do helpful things like adding flights and restaurant reservations to your calendar. The Smart Reply is also a handy feature that prompts you with several short replies you can plug into your email. But for those options to be relevant Google needs to be able to scan your email for content.
Google knows where you are and what you want
While creepy if you think about it too much, there are many other ways that Google knowing where you are and what your face looks like makes your life easier. When you change time zones Google changes the time zone of your calendar, too, so you don’t have to do that time conversion in your head, or even worse, forget to do it! It also makes tagging locations in pictures easier. Along the same vein, facial recognition saves you time by helping you tag people faster. Other things that shave off seconds of our time (they all add up) are autofill, recommended videos on YouTube (God forbid we would have to find them on our own!), and auto-completing searches we type in the search bar.
The worst is yet to come
While Google seems to be using our data fairly responsibly right now (i.e. to the benefit of the user), having this much user data on hand sounds potentially disastrous. Let’s hope they don’t get hacked. I hear a time bomb ticking.
Google’s technological powers are about to get even more advanced in 2019. The creation of Google Attribution will better track the customer journey and help companies get a better understanding of whether their marketing is working or not. Google Attribution allows Google to connect our moves more and more. A hyper frequency will be emitted from TVs for certain commercials and will be received by phones. This way, a company can know whether you make a purchase from your phone after viewing the commercial.
You’re in the driver’s seat
You probably fall into one of two camps after reading this. 1) You want to run as far away from Google as possible, or 2) you think this stinks, but it’s a necessary evil. Here are some ways you can mitigate what this tech giant knows about you in order of the least extreme measures to the most extreme:
- Just be aware. Be aware of how much data is actually stored about you and let that serve as a guide to what you do online.
- Do your Privacy Checkup and take whatever action you want. Start your Privacy Checkup at myaccount.google.com to personalize your Google experience and control what you do or do not want to be tracked at the expense of a personalized ad experience. This could include deleting stored history and activity and turning off location monitoring.
- Use a different browser. At least you have options. You don’t have to to do all your searches in Google. Spread your data wealth and use a different browser. There’s Safari, Firefox, Bing, and others.
- Use a VPN. Using a VPN will hide your IP address and make your browsing history private.
- Delete all your Google accounts. Running the opposite direction is the most drastic of options. If you do this, you would probably want to download your content first. Just remember that even if you delete your account, many sites you visit will still be connected to Google Analytics, so you can’t flee from it entirely.
Remember that for each Google account you have you will need to look at each account settings separately.