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The Staggering Details Google Knows About Your Life

Last edited: June 24, 2019
Reading time: 6 minutes, 24 seconds

Google was founded in 1998 as a search engine, the product they are still best known for today. Today Google fields an average of over 40,000 searches each second, for over 1.2 trillion searches in a year – and this number continues to grow. But Google does far more than help you find funny cat videos and your favorite recipes. Google provides, email, videos, social media through Google+, office software through their Google Office products, and much more. The more you use Google products, the more Google learns about you. Moreover, they can compare you with similar profiles of other users. Find out what Google knows about you, but be prepared to be shocked.

What Your Search History Says About You

Google Chrome logoIt’s a common phenomenon. You do a Google search for a product and the next thing you know there are advertisements everywhere for that same product. But advertising based on product searches is just a small part of the information Google collects about you to form an advertising profile. Do a search online for information about a certain breed of dog, and Google logs the information about you. The more searches you do about dogs in general or that breed of dog the more likely Google’s system rates you as owning that breed of dog.

You can see how quickly Google can build a profile of almost every aspect of your life. From medical issues you look up, Google can determine you suffer from frequent heartburn. Is FoxNews your go-to source for news? Google notes your political leanings. Start looking up homes in a new area and Google learns you may be contemplating a move. Every search you conduct adds to the information Google has to build your profile.

Email Is – Mostly – Confidential

gmail logoUp until 2017 Google scanned the content of Gmail accounts for information to create targeted advertisements. Google scanned every email sent from personal Gmail accounts, both incoming and outgoing, for information that would be useful to advertisers. This policy isn’t in place anymore. However, there are still some things about Gmail we want to note.

Google did not delete the information it gained about you from email before 2017. If Google learned through an email you sent in 2016 that you plan to retire in Arizona within five years, that information remains part of your targeted profile for advertisers.

Additionally, Google has not stopped scanning your emails for spam and phishing attempts. Which means that Google is keeping track of the email addresses that come and go on your account. While Google has said it will stop scanning the content of the email for targeted advertising, it is not clear if Google has stopped using information from the addresses for targeted advertising. So, if you email a new broker, or real estate agent, it’s likely that information is used to build your profile as well.

Google Docs Is a Storehouse of Information

logo google docsOnce you stop and think about it, this seems obvious. Microsoft makes a great deal of income off its Microsoft Office brand of products including word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software. How is it Google can offer the same products to you for free? Part of the answer lies in the fact that Google scans your documents to provide relevant content to you – also known as targeted advertising. The better quality of information for targeting potential customers, the more Google can charge for your information.

If you’ve ever written a letter using Google Docs to provide information to an attorney about an upcoming divorce, Google can use that information to target you. For instance, by showing you ads for dating apps. If you put together a simple budget using Google Sheets, Google might notice that your budget for television is significantly higher than the average in your area. Useful information for companies offering competing television services.

Although we might like this type of targeted ads we must not forget the dangers. Selling your information for targeted ads is one thing. But what is companies start selling this information to insurance companies or the government?

Google Drive Is A Great Place to Store Information

google docsHaving information available on any device is wonderfully useful. You can store important paperwork and receipts online, save your favorite songs, keep tax documents safe. According to the terms of service, you know, the thing you have to check that you agree to in order to have an account but you never really read, Google scans the content of your drive to provide “personally relevant product features.” Even if the documents you store there weren’t created using Google’s office products, the company now has access to that information.

Maps May Provide the Best Profile of Your Life

Google maps iconGoogle Maps and similar products made finding your way around town so much simpler. But while Google Maps doesn’t charge you for its use, nothing is ever free. If you never used any other Google product, Google could build a thorough profile of your life based on Maps alone. Maps provides information about your home address, where you work, where your kids go to school, your favorite restaurants, how often you go to the grocery store, how you like to spend your free time, whether fishing at the lake or drinking at the bar, and much, much more. You are basically allowing someone to stalk you.

Other Sources of Information

Google Chrome obviously provides a lot of information for Google about your habits online. It’s important for advertisers to know which advertisements you click on and how long you remain on the page. YouTube tells Google about your taste in music, movie trailers, and funny cat videos. Google Translate tells it what languages you may be interested in, and what you are trying to communicate in those languages. Google Shopping tells Google about your online shopping habits, what you consider to be too high a price to pay for the latest electronics, whether you are satisfied with your current devices, and more. Every interaction you have with Google provides it with key information advertisers use to target you with ads.

Find Out What Google Knows About You

Google take outWhile it is either fascinating or scary, depending on your point of view, how much Google can know about you, it’s possible to learn a lot about what Google does know about you. Go to Google Takeout and select which products you would like to include in your information download. The list is long, you will need to scroll down to the bottom.

Click “Next” to be presented with options about how you want the information delivered to you. You can choose a .zip or .tgz file, the maximum size files before it splits the information (think gigabytes of information here). Moreover, you can pick whether you want the data emailed to you, or added to a cloud storage option. This way you can get an inside into the knowledge Google has collected on you over the years.

You Should Be in Charge of Your Data

There is nothing inherently evil about Google scanning your information to help advertisers make their ads to your more relevant to your interests. Some people may decide they prefer to have advertisements for products and services they are actually interested. Rather than be flooded with adds for things they would never buy. However, it is your information and you should be aware of the information you provide Google with. In addition it is good to be aware of what Google does with that data. You can adjust your Google privacy settings in a way that will enhance your privacy slightly. However, to be completely anonymous while useing Google is simply impossible.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. Since 2019 she is's cybersecurity news coordinator.

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