How Much Google Knows About You

How Much Google Knows About You

A look at The Information You Give To Search Engines and How It Is Used

Willingly or not, you give away a heap of information about yourself to Google. A lot more than you may imagine. Each search, click, thumbs up, share, and app you use (as a start) tells a story about who you are, and how you think!

Every action you take online is monitored to some degree. Sounds scary, but, when that information is used as intended, it makes your online experience all the better. Here’s what you’re giving away, how it’s used —and how to protect your privacy.

The Basics

When you created your Google account, you filled in the same information that you probably share willingly with many other sites and apps. Your name, age, gender – What marketers call “demographics”.

Companies that advertise through Google’s many services can specify their target market by age, ethnicity, gender, location etc.

The Rabbit Hole Goes Deeper

Even without a Google account (or browsing without signing in), the IP address of your device is used to track your online behaviour. Here comes the big whopper. Google owns many companies that don’t bear its name such as Waze (navigation app), YouTube, Tango, and…wait for it… Android.

Anticipating Your Needs

Everything you type into search is stored. The topics you looked up, which sites you visited and how long you spent on each. Doing so enables Google to serve better results to you in future.

For example, if you search a broad topic like “Pizza” – how does Google know if you’re looking for a definition, a restaurant, or a recipe?

Google joins the dots between your profile info, search history and all of the data you’ve given connected services. It knows that you’re in your early 20’s, never looked up a recipe before, and your Google Maps history shows that you frequent many fast food restaurants. So you’ll probably find results for nearby pizza places.

Spot-On Personalised Advertising – Cookies and Following

Depending on your Ad Settings, you can see ads across your devices and sites that partner with Google. Have you looked up something about car insurance at work, only to find that your social media at home is now filled with car insurance ads?

This should surprise you, we’re used to it. In fact, we’ve become so accustomed to this phenomenon that we’re almost insulted when an ad that is entirely unrelated to our tastes and preferences appears. For example, seeing ads for fur jackets when you’re very clearly an animal activist!

Pro Tip: Find out what ad topics Google thinks you’re most interested in. You can limit this information on the top of the Manage Ads Settings Page by switching the “Ads Personalisation” button to off.

Cookies play a large part in your online experience too. A cookie is a small text file that a website saves on your computer or mobile device when you visit a site. It enables the website to remember your actions and preferences over some time.

Zando is a great example of a site that uses cookies. One day, you’re happily “window shopping”, looking at boots before winter kicks in. The next day, you keep seeing the very same boots that you had your eye on – only now it’s less 10%!

Google Knows Where You Have Been and Where You’re Going

When using Google Maps, Google combines your data with people around you to recognise traffic patterns and can then calculate travel times. But it gets creepier. Google can actually send you a push notification to tell you where you’re going and when to leave!

It reads your calendar and learns your driving patterns. If you go to the physio every Tuesday at 2pm, eventually Google will send you a notification to tell you that you need to leave for XYZ physio in 10 minutes to arrive on time.

Needless to say, Google knows where you live and work even if you haven’t saved those locations. You can go into settings and tell Google to forget it, but you’d have to turn your phone’s GPS off for it to stay “forgotten”.

Pro Tip: Find out where Google has been following you . Limit this information at the bottom of the “Location History Page” by clicking “Pause Location History.”

Protect Your Privacy

Manage your Google Settings

  • Log in to Google and go to My Account
  • Perform security and privacy check-ups. Between these two checks, you will find what Google is storing.
  • You’ll be able to review your privacy settings in privacy check-up.

Protect your privacy

It’s great that Google wants to give you a better online experience, but that experience can quickly turn sour if your information gets into the wrong hands.

  • Protect your passwords, don’t use the same password on multiple accounts
  • Only visit secure (HTTPS) websites
  • Install antivirus and anti-malware software on your devices
  • Set up firewalls
  • Encrypt your emails
  • Delete cookies and search history often
  • For added privacy, you can hide your IP by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Follow these steps, and you’re all good to go. Enjoy the convenience of Google’s sophisticated algorithms delivering the content that you want most, whenever you want it.

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