What Google Knows About You - Should You Be Worried?Updated: June 02, 2019
Are you concerned about what Google knows about you? Let's find out if it really knows as much as you think (or more).
Everybody is talking about how Google knows everything about you. It knows the websites you access online, the places you visit in real life, the things you love, and even what you plan on buying next.
But does Google really know all that much to put your identity and sensitive data at risk in the online world?
Well, the answer might be somewhere in the middle.
Google is, indeed, a mega-corporation that collects as many data about its users as they allow it to collect.
Have you ever felt a bit spooked when receiving a notification on your phone asking you to review a place you just left? How does Google know everything, even when you're not actively using any device? Well, the answer is that Google tracks your location at all times if you haven't blocked its access.
Not necessarily. But it does raise some concerns about one's data security and privacy.
With all the information Google collects about you if you're using your devices with the default preferences, Google is able to lay down a detailed journal about your life. The places you visited, the hour you got out with your friends, how far you've walked, what question you had today that needed answering, what recipe have you tried this week, what's the dress you die to buy, what's the next venue you wanna check out. It's an entire data registry on your life. And honestly, I so wished I had the power to keep all this stored in my head ready to access at all times. But it also makes me wonder.
What could someone do with all this data?
Technology is arising. It started to evolve quite recently. Hackers find new ways to hack, and more of them are born as the technology is spreading its use. Online identities will worth more than real life identities, at least from a money point of view. I know what I'm saying now is a bit of a foil hat situation, but look around how fast technology is catching up in our lives. We are drawn to do more and more stuff online every day. To use our devices for everything. And all of our actions can be tracked down and stored.
I won't tell you to stop using technology and lock up in a cave so no one will find out your secrets. It's a price we have to pay. For the comfort of using the internet and services like Google to streamline our lives, we must make sacrifices. Such as giving Google some information about our personal preferences. But it is in our power to decide to what extends we want to share.
Maybe it's time for you to take a quick look over what personal data you allow Google to store. Sharing is good, but for enhanced online privacy and a secure journey, it's best not to overshare.
So let's start by reviewing what Google knows about you, how does Google collect information and how you can limit what you share so you better protect your personal data.
If you're using Google's services, from Google Chrome with a Google account to other apps like Calendar, Drive, or Maps, you should know that each of these apps stores data about your life.
Not all the apps track everything about you. Each one tracks specific things. While the Maps app, for example, needs to track your location so it can give you the best directions and recommendations, the Calendar app will get information about your contacts, meetings, and events.
But gather all the bits of information collected by each of the apps, under the same company's record, and there you have it - Google knows everything about you.
Like I said, each service from Google tracks specific aspects of your online activity. Here is a quick look over what type of data the main Google services collect about you.
- Google Search - What you search for in Google
- Google Chrome - Browsing history (all the websites you visit)
- Gmail - Emails sent and received, contacts
- Ads - Topics you're interested in, the ads you click on
- Google Maps / Waze - The locations you visited and the days of your travels, the places you searched for, the transportation you used
- Google photos - The people and places tagged
- Google Calendar - Events and appointments
- Google Fit - Your health stats (steps walked in a day, goals)
- YouTube - All the videos you watch, upload or like
When you choose to use one of Google's services, you're the one giving Google the authorization to collect data. By default, the permissions are set to allow Google to collect all this information about you.
If you're using more of the above Google services, Google probably knows about you the following information.
Who you are
- Your name, birthday, and gender
- Your phone number/s
- Your appearance (based on the face recognition in Google photos)
- Your voice (if you use voice commands)
- Your health stats
- Your personal preferences (based on what you search on Google)
- What videos, books, movies, food you like
- What products you're interested in and what are your favorite shops
What you do online
- All the websites you visit
- All the apps and extensions you're using
- The email addresses and phone numbers set to autofill
- All the passwords you allowed Google to store
Where you've been
- Where you live and where you work (because Google tracks your location at all times, it can see where you spend most of the time)
- All the places you visit (coffee shops, restaurants, shops)
- Where you travel to
Who you're in contact with
- Who you exchange emails with
- Your meetings (based on meetings set up in Google Calendar) Who you're taking photos with (if you use the facial recognition feature in Google Photos)
- Details about your calls and SMS (some services track information about your phone contacts and contact history)
The pieces of information I've provided above is just the main type of information Google collects about you. There are even more details about your life that are stored by Google services.
Google makes it clear that it collects all this information
Google makes it clear it collects information about you such as your location, browsing history and settings, devices you use, your phone number, the apps and browsers on your devices.
Google also swears they do not sell your information and only use it to improve their services, provide personalized experiences, and measuring performance.
If you are wondering what exactly Google knows about you to this point, you can find out by requesting an archive with all the information.
To do so, log in to your Google account and access the Data & personalisation. By scrolling down, you'll stumble upon a section that says Download, delete or make a plan for your data. Click on Download your data and Google will make you an archive containing all the data stored about you by the services connected to this account (you can also customize it so you download only specific data).
From the Download, delete or make a plan for your data you can also choose to delete all the data Google collected about you so far.
1. The privacy preferences on your Google account
If you want to limit the amount of information Google tracks about your online activity, the first step is to review what you allow Google and its services to collect.
First, you want to review the privacy settings in your Google account. To do so, log in to your account and go to Settings > Data Personalisation. There you'll find a section that says Review your privacy settings.
From there, it will show you all the information Google has access to.
By accessing each section you can see what information Google stored about you and you can choose to disable its access to collect such information from now on.
2. The app permissions on your devices
Another step you don't want to overlook if you want more privacy from Google's eyes is to check out what permissions you allow to the apps installed on your devices.
Go to your device's settings and there you'll find a section dedicated to Apps. From there, you can manage the permissions you allow to specific apps. You'll find that Google services have permissions to most of the information.
3. Be more cautious from now on
Before allowing Google to collect all and everything about you, think about what part of that data is actually benefiting you.
You might find it useful for Google to know about your whereabouts from time to time. Maybe you're traveling and you're looking for a nearby restaurant. Google will find you one in seconds if you tell it where to look at. But are you feeling comfortable with Google knowing where you are at all times?
Besides limiting Google's access to your data, there are a couple more things you can make to protect your online privacy.
Only allow tracking the location when you need it
If you''re not eager to disable Google's access to your location for good because it comes in handy at times, you can manually turn it on only when you need it. this ay google won't track your location history at any given time and will only know where you are when you allow it to.
Use multiple Google accounts
To avoid having all the information about you collected under a single account (which gives Google the opportunity to create a detailed profile on you), you can choose to use more Google accounts, each of them allowing Google to collect specific data. You can have one account for Chrome, one for Maps, and so on. This approach is a bit time consuming and juggling with multiple accounts can be overwhelming. Also, there's no guarantee the accounts won't be interconnected in some ways (using the same phone number, IP addresses, devices).
Use a VPN service
A great way to stay away from having your online activity tracked by Google is to use a VPN service. A VPN will hide your location by changing your IP address so it makes it impossible for Google to track your location. Also, because the VPN encrypts all the internet traffic, Google won't be able to track your browsing history either.
This is the easiest method as all you have to do is find a reliable VPN service and download the client. After that, you only have to connect to a VPN server before you start using the internet. You'll be anonymous online at all times and you can choose to reveal your real location only when you really need it (for example, when looking for a nearby restaurant).
With the DrSoft VPN service:
Use the Incognito Mode
By using the Incognito Mode on Google Chrome you'll limit the data Google tracks about your browsing and search history. Still, other data about your online behavior can be collected even when using the private mode.
Use a secure browser
There are alternatives to the Google Chrome browser and some browsers limit the amount of data they track about their users' online behavior. On some browsers, such as Tor, you are almost completely anonymous. We went over the most secure browsers out there and their perks if you want to learn more.
The only way to completely stop Google from tracking your online activity is to stop using any Google services all together. But should you?
I'm not saying you shouldn't share anything with Google. I personally love Google. Google services are user-friendly and they make it so easy to access your files from anywhere, receive personalized recommendations, and keep track of your life.
But you should be aware of the data you allow the apps and services to collect about your activity.
After all, we are talking about our personal data, our privacy is at risk and we should learn how to protect ourselves online.
I hope that the above information about what Google knows about you and what kind of information Google collects will make you pay more attention to what you share with the apps on your devices.