It's 2023. What Does Google REALLY Know About You?
During my four years working at Google, I was amazed by the extent of the information the company has on its users.
To create this article, I also spoke with 14 engineers currently working at Google, so you can understand what Google knows about your gender, age, and home and work addresses - not to mention your financial status, your health, and even your sexual tendencies.
Most importantly, I’ll show you how to delete all your past data from Google (and the US government, which can gain access to it) and how to hide future information from Google.
Table of Contents:
6 Things Google Knows About You
How Does Google Collect this Information?
Why Does Google Want Your Information?
How Can This Affect You?
How Can You Protect Your Privacy?
- How to Download a Backup Copy of Your Data from Google
- How to Clear Cookies in Google Chrome
- How to Opt Out of Google Analytics
- How to Change Your Privacy Settings on Google
- How to Delete your Google History
1. Whooooo Are You, Who, Who, Who, Who?
Aside from the basic information that Google most likely knows about you (name, gender, date of birth, language, etc.), they use state of the art technology to make sure they know exactly what makes you, well… YOU.
They know what you look like - thanks to ever-improving facial recognition and tagging in Google Photos
They know what you sound like, thanks to voice recording used in their products or third-party app that you’ve given permissions to. If you go to My Activity on their website, you can even view and listen to your recording history.
They know your beliefs. By tracking your search history, Google can build a profile around your spiritual beliefs, your political beliefs, and even anticipate how you plan to vote.
They know how healthy you are. Have you tried to self-diagnose an illness lately? Have you looked for the nearest doctor/pharmacy? Or perhaps wanted to try a home remedy? If you think you’re getting sick, then Google probably thinks the same. However, if you use Google Fit, then Google doesn’t think, they know. You log it. They know it.
2. Location, Location, Location
If you’re like me, you probably carry your phone everywhere you go. You sync it with your other devices. At the very least, it’s probably not the only device you connect to the internet.
The problem is that when you connect through wi-fi, GPS or cellular networks, Google can track your location - and by monitoring how long you are connected in each place, they know where you go, where you’ve been, and how long you were there.
The scariest part of Google knowing your movement habits is that they can easily figure out where you live and work.
If you think you can avoid this by switching from Google Maps to its main competitor, Waze, think again. Google has acquired Waze and owns the data sets on both services - different funnels into the same data-pot of your information.
3. Keep Your Friends Close…
If you think it’s just you against the machine, think again. Profiling is a team sport. You are being watched. Your friends are being watched. Your friends are being used to watch you.
If they want to know who you talk to, they can see your contacts in Gmail, Google Hangouts and Android phones, including names, emails and phone numbers, even going so far as to see who you talk to the most.
If they want to know when and where you’re meeting people, then Google Calendar has the answer - or if you want to make it easy for them, just take a photo and tag you and your friend at the location.
They know what you’re saying. Until 2017, Google automatically scanned its users’ personal emails to make suggestions of websites and to allow advertising to be targeted to the user. Then they announced that they would stop reading emails to create targeted advertising.
Worse yet, Google also scans the emails of non-subscribers who send emails to people with Gmail accounts. These people have not signed up to Gmail. There is no confirmation from Google about how long the information is kept for or how it is used no ads third-party apps.
This is not just limited to text emails, meaning they can also see the videos and photos that you send.
Google claims that this is no longer the case, with some exceptions, and that the danger comes from third-party apps that the user gave permission to.
As if that’s not bad enough, if you use Google Drive, Google knows exactly what kind of information you have, and they can lock you out of your own Google Drive files if they suspect you have “inappropriate content”.
4. The Like/Dislike Buttons of You
Whenever you browse for specific things on Google Search, the algorithm learns.
Whenever you watch a certain video on YouTube, the algorithm learns.
Whenever you click or hide an ad, the algorithm learns.
Whenever you buy something online, if Google was a part of the process, the algorithm learns.
It learns until it knows exactly what you like and don’t like… and then it learns some more.
5. Your Future is in Their Hands
Planning to go out to a party or a restaurant? Planning to see a movie or concert? Planning to take a trip or visit a landmark? Planning to study or learn a new language? Planning to move to a new city? Planning to buy a car or a house? Planning to have surgery? Planning to have a baby? Planning your life?
Did you search for any of those things on Google or YouTube?
If you did, Google is planning right alongside you. One order of tailored advertising, please.
6. The Web is Sticky
If Google is a spider, Google Chrome is its web.
Google Chrome logs all the things you’ve searched for in Google Search, all the websites you’ve visited or bookmarked, every YouTube video you’ve watched, every ad you’ve clicked, even how many passwords Google Chrome auto-fills.
These Google Chrome logged browser-habits include:
- Everything you’ve searched for using Google Search or YouTube
- Your YouTube history
- How many Google searches you’ve made during this month
- Every website you’ve ever clicked on
- Every website address that you’ve ever entered in the address bar
- Every website you’ve ever bookmarked
- Every Google Chrome tab that is open across all your devices.
- How many Gmail conversations you’ve had
- The apps you downloaded from Chrome Web Store and the Google Play store
- Your Chrome Web Store extensions
- Your Chrome browser settings
- Any email addresses, addresses, phone numbers you’ve set to auto-fill in Chrome
- All the usernames and passwords you’ve asked Chrome to save
- All the sites you’ve asked Chrome NOT to save a password for
All this information is collected through the Google websites and apps most of us use every day.
Well, their answer-that-isn’t-a-real-answer is a “faster, smarter, and more useful” Google experience.
They want to log as much of your data as they can get their hands on because they claim that the more data they have on you, the better they can serve your personal needs, and make your online experience better, as well as increase user security.
Google also uses your data to:
- Recommended YouTube videos.
- Offer better Google Maps responsiveness.
- Quick and easy access to personalized info when using Google Search.
- More productivity when using Google Assistant.
- Use Autocomplete features through their search engine.
- Enable Chrome to autocomplete forms for you.
Hack, Hackity, Hack!
If your data, that Google stores, gets hacked, it can be misused in more sinister ways.
(Worse than advertising? I know!)
While big companies like Google and Facebook are always trying to stay ahead of the criminal elements on the web, internet security has become compromised again and again. Considering all the information that Google stores, if yours fell into the wrong hands, there’s no telling in what creative ways these creepy characters could use your information against you.
Your House, in the Middle of the Screen!
Google Street View puts your location on the map for everyone to see, not to mention invading the personal space of other people without their knowledge or permission. At one point, it even collected data from people’s unsecured wi-fi networks, but Google has since fixed the issue once they became aware.
The creepiness continues with the Google Home personal assistant. The new technical development allows Google to know when you turn your house’s lights on/off, adjust your home temperature, check bookings and shopping lists, set alarms, check your schedule. All of those with their very own log, ready for Google and their advertisers.
Deleted but Not Gone.
Delete. Verb. Meaning to remove or obliterate.
Google missed the memo, as they keep your emails for up to 60 days, with some emails possibly still remaining in their backup systems after that.
It’s Raining Ads!
Ever wonder how these advertisers are so accurate, so often? Ah, the profit of profiles. When they know enough about you, they can make your whole internet experience feel like the impulse-buy aisle at your local store. This can be especially effective on kids, who don’t always understand how advertising targets them.
And on that note…
Three’s a Crowd.
While Google might not be selling your personal information to advertisers, third-party apps that you’ve given permissions to might.
If an app is free, chances are they are selling your data to advertising companies, as aside from in-app purchases (like “go ad-free”), generating revenue from data-sales and in-app advertising is one of the most profitable ways for free apps to earn.
What’s in a Name?
Not every Google product comes with the “Google” name. You might think that you’re avoiding the Google data-grab by using other products, but you need to be aware that Google acquires many companies without ever putting their stamp on it. These include but are not limited to YouTube, Blogger, and Waze.
What’s even worse, is that some of them don’t even let you know that you are being tracked by Google so you might be providing Google with more information than you think.
So, at this point, you might be feeling a little frustrated, but don’t panic just yet. There are a few ways to protect yourself from information-hungry, data-collecting software.
First Things First
If you want to know exactly what you’ve been up to according to them, sign into Google, go to My activity and see for yourself.
Once you’ve gotten over the shock, follow these easy steps to download a backup copy of your data. After all, it is yours.
- Go to Google Takeout.
- Be sure to Select All, unless you want to specific data, in which case, you can scroll down and select manually, then scroll to the bottom and click Next.
- Choose your file type and archive size. We recommend the common.zip-format and the max 50GB file to ensure that your data is easily accessible, and does not get spilt up into multiple files.
- Choose your delivery method. We chose to get the download link via email, but you can add it to Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive or Box.
- Click Create Archive.
Depending on how much of your data Google has stored, it may take anything from a few hours to a few days to create.
Be prepared, as there will most likely be quite a bit of content to sort through.
Cookies are small pieces of data that are used to track your visits and activity on a website. We recommend that you empty your browser’s cookies every few weeks because while many cookies can be mostly harmless, others might contain your personal information.
- Click the button with the three dots on the top right-hand corner of the browser window.
- Click Settings.
- Scroll down to the bottom and click on Advanced.
- From here, go to the Privacy and Security section, then scroll all the way down, and click on Clear browsing data.If you only want to clear your cookies, then only tick the Cookies and other site data box. Uncheck the other boxes if you don’t want to lose your other saved data.
- Select the Time range to decide how far back you’d like to delete your cookies.
- Click Clear Data.
OPT OUT and Plug OUT
If you don’t want Google to track your personal online activity, it’s best to sign out of your Google accounts and opt out of Google Analytics. The issue is that it’s not just the browser or website that are tracking you. Many browser plug-ins, add-ons, and extensions track your information and could expose your identity and location.
Google allows you to turn off Google Analytics by using their browser ad-on.
- Google “opt out Google Analytics” and click on the first link.
- Select your language and click on the button to get the browser add-on
- After reading the terms of service, click Accept and Install.
Keep Things Private
While this doesn’t protect you from other websites, using Google’s Incognito Mode will stop your browsing- and search history from being tracked.
Decide how much information you are willing to share by adjusting your privacy settings.
Disable location reporting across all your devices to keep Google from tracking your whereabouts. That said, your location data might still be compromised if you use Google Maps or Waze for directions.
After installing new apps and games, be sure to deny permissions and access when they ask to read certain files and data.
Worried about your emails? Encrypt your emails using an email encryption tool, so that only you can access the email. This is especially handy when you need to send sensitive information, like passwords or bank details.
Want to remove temptation? Remove targeted ads by turning off interest-based advertising.
- Log into Google and go to My account.
- Firstly, perform a Security Checkup and a Privacy Checkup.
When clicking on Security Checkup, you can see if there are any issues with your current security across all your connected devices, recent security events, your verification methods and third-party access.
By doing a Privacy Checkup you can review and adjust your privacy settings.
You’ll be able to manage your activity controls, like Web & App Activity:Location History, Device Information:Voice and Audio Activity:YouTube Search and Watch History:
- Click Next to move on to What You Share on YouTube.
- Click Next to move on to Manage Your Google Photos Settings.
- Click Next and choose what Google+ profile information you share with others.
- Click Next and review your ad settings.
If this is all too much for you, and you feel your long-time partner in Chrome has betrayed you, perhaps it’s time for a clean break.
- Firstly, sign into your Google account and then delete your Google Chrome browser history.The same as clearing cookies, in Google Chrome, click the button with the three dots on the top right-hand corner of the browser window.
- Click Settings.
- Scroll down to the bottom and click on Advanced.
- From here, go to the Privacy and Security section, then scroll all the way down, and click on Clear browsing data.
If you only want to delete your browsing history, then only tick the Browsing history box. Uncheck the other boxes if you don’t want to lose your other saved data.
- Select the Time range to decide how far back you’d like to delete your data.
- Then click Clear Data.
- Now you want to delete your Google Search history.Go to My Activity.
- Click the three dots menu and select Delete activity by
- Choose Delete by date and select All time.
- Finish by clicking Delete.
- Delete all your Google accounts and avoid all Google products, including their handy apps, like Gmail, Google Maps, Google Drive, as well as any Android devices.
So, uhm… where to now?
Okay, so it feels like a big ask to give up a company that has integrated themselves so deeply into your online experience, but luckily, there are alternative products and private search engines out there.
But the BEST Thing You Can Do Is…
At the end of the day, whether it’s Google or an alternative, your digital footprints can always be traced back to your device’s IP address. The only way to way to reach true anonymity is by hiding your IP. And the best way to do that is by using a VPN (Virtual private network).
And the best VPN?
Right now, there is one VPN that stands above the rest, and that is ExpressVPN – but don’t take our word for it; read what real users have to say. It’s the current gold standard of what a VPN should be. Fast. Secure. Reliable. Affordable. It has it all.
Not only that, but ExpressVPN can easily bypass geoblocks to give you access blocked websites and streaming content from all over the world (including Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu and more), all while keeping your connection private and secure from hackers, your ISP, and our favorite big brother… Google.
The company is currently offering a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can take it for a test drive risk-free.
There’s no denying that Google has always been at the forefront of making our lives more convenient.
But to keep doing that, they’ll always need more of your information.
Privacy seems to be the price of convenience.
And Google is by no means alone in this. Other tech-giants, like Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft do pretty much the same.
Striking a balance between tracking consumer activity, and respecting your privacy needs to be a top priority for businesses, who rely so heavily on Analytics.
The problem is that profits drive the market, and as long as there is some privacy-clause that you’ve failed to notice when you did or didn’t read their terms and conditions, you’ll always be signing up for something without understanding the consequences of the split-second it took you to click “Agree”.
The power to your privacy needs to be in your hands, and for now, your ULTIMATE PROTECTION COMBO is combining your VPN with an anonymizing browser, such as Tor, which is actually an entire system designed to keep you anonymous.
Finding the right VPN for your needs can be difficult, but we’ve done the research for you and narrowed it down to five top picks. If you want to get a great VPN for a great price, don’t miss our frequently updated deals and coupons page.
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