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What Does Google Know About Me?

Last edited: October 27, 2020
Reading time: 13 minutes, 32 seconds
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A Summary: What Does Google Know About Me?

In exchange for using Google’s services, Google collects and sells your information. Based on simple searches, Google can already build an extensive profile about you. Data about you is also collected through other Google services such as YouTube, Gmail, and the Chrome browser. Google uses this personal information to show you personalized ads.

Would you like to better protect your privacy and minimize the amount of information Google knows you? Here are some tips:

  • Do a privacy check-up and critically review your settings.
  • Log out of Google services as much as possible.
  • Choose alternatives: use the anonymous search engine DuckDuckGo, for example.
  • Use a VPN for more online privacy and anonymity. ExpressVPN is an excellent all-round VPN.

Do you want to know more about all the data Google collects about you? Perhaps you’re curious about what the company does with this information? You’ll find all the answers you need in the full article below.

Google processes over 3.5 billion searches per day. We all use it to search for information about trending topics, people, recipes, events, and so on. While you search, Google collects a lot of data about you. Do you use other Google services besides the search engine, such as Chrome, Gmail, or Google Maps? Then Google knows even more about you.

The more you use Google products, the more Google learns about you. We looked into this and summed up the facts for you. Read on if you want to find out what Google knows, but be prepared to be shocked.

What Your Search History Says About You

Google Chrome LogoWe probably don’t need to tell you how much the internet and its largest search engine – Google – have grown over the past twenty years. In fact, Google went from 32.8 million daily searches at the turn of the century to today’s 3.5 billion a day. The search engine has become so popular, you might not ever have considered using any other platform than Google.

It’s a common phenomenon: you perform a Google search for a certain product and the next thing you know, you start seeing advertisements for that same product everywhere. But saving product searches to show you ads is just a small part of Google’s strategy. It collects much more information about you to form an advertising profile.

If you search for information about a certain breed of dog, Google logs that information. The more searches you do about that breed or dogs in general, the more likely Google’s system is to rate you as a (future) dog owner.

This example shows how quickly Google is able to deduce information about almost every aspect of your life. By googling medical symptoms, you could be telling Google that you suffer from frequent heartburn. Is FoxNews your go-to news source? Then Google will note your political preferences. If you suddenly start searching for homes in a new area, Google might learn that you’re contemplating moving house. Every search you conduct adds to the information Google has to build your profile.

Google Knows a Lot About You

Few companies in the world know more about you than Google. Exactly what and how much the company behind the search engine giant knows about you, depends largely on the Google services you use. These include Chrome, Gmail, Google Docs, Maps, YouTube, and of course the search engine itself. If you use Google’s operating system Android, you open the door even further. Through these various channels, Google collects a lot of data about you – a system even Facebook can’t match.

Below, we’ll discuss some of Google’s services and show you what kind of personal information you reveal by using these services.

Gmail and Your Privacy

Gmail logoUp until 2017, Google used to scan the content of Gmail accounts for information to create targeted advertisements. Google looked at every email, both incoming and outgoing, from personal Gmail accounts for information that would be useful to advertisers. This policy luckily isn’t used anymore. Even so, there are some things about Gmail we want to note.

First of all, Google didn’t delete the information it gained about its users from emails sent or received before 2017. If Google learned from an email sent in 2016 that you plan to retire to Arizona in five years, that information remains part of your targeted profile for advertisers.

Additionally, Google hasn’t stopped scanning emails for spam and phishing attempts. This means Google is still keeping track of the email addresses you communicate with. While Google has said it will stop scanning the content of the email for targeted advertising, it isn’t clear whether they’ve also stopped using information gained from checking email 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.

Is Google Docs Safe?

Google Docs LogoGoogle offers free office software. This is remarkable, because other companies make a lot of money from these kinds of products. Microsoft, for example, owes a lot of its earnings to Microsoft Office brand products, including word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software. How is it possible that Google offers the same products for free?

Part of the answer lies in the fact that Google scans your documents for useful personal information – which can then be used for targeted advertising. The more useful the information is for companies, the more Google can charge for it.

If you’ve ever used Google Docs to write a letter to an attorney about an upcoming divorce, Google can use that information for targeted marketing. You might, for example, be shown more ads for dating apps. Similarly, 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. This is useful information for companies offering television or streaming services.

Although this type of targeted advertising can be convenient at times, we mustn’t forget the dangers. Selling your information for targeted ads is one thing. But what if companies start selling this information to insurance companies, or the government?

Google Drive: A Great Place to Store Information

google docsGoogle Drive enables its users to save all their documents and other files in a secure way. Since all these files are saved online, you can open them on any device, which is wonderfully useful. You can store important paperwork and receipts online, save your favorite songs, and even keep tax documents safe. With Google Drive, you’ll always have access to everything you need.

Before being able to use Google Drive, you need to accept its terms of service – you know, that long document barely anyone ever really reads. In it, it says that Google scans the content of your drive to provide “personally relevant product features.” In other words, all of your personal documents might be used for marketing purposes.

Even if the documents you store on Google Drive weren’t originally created using Google’s office products, the company now has access to all of that information.

Google Maps

Google Maps IconsGoogle Maps has made finding your way around town so much simpler. While Google Maps doesn’t charge you for its use, you still pay a price. Even if you never used any other Google products, Google could still build a thorough profile of you and 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 it’s fishing at the lake or drinking at the bar), and much, much more. By using Google Maps, you basically allow someone to continuously stalk you.

What Other Google Services Know About You

There are many more popular products that Google uses to collect information about its users. Below is an overview of different Google products and the information that can be collected through them.

Google service Gathered information
Google Chrome Information on your online habits. Any information that reveals which ads you click on and how long you remain on a certain page, is crucial to advertisers.
YouTube Your viewing history, the channels you follow, how much time you spend watching a video, your taste in music, movies, and the number of funny cat videos you watch a week.
Google Translate Selected languages, any information you entered.
Google Shopping Your online shopping habits, your budget.

Every interaction you have with Google provides the company with key information that advertisers can use to target you with ads. If you’re an ‘average’ Google user, you can assume that the company has quickly collected a few gigabytes of data about you. That’s a few times the capacity of a 90s PC hard drive.

Admittedly, the amount of data doesn’t say everything here. More interesting is the question: what exactly does Google know about me?

Find Out What Google Knows About You

Google take outGoogle knows more than you think. This is either fascinating or scary, depending on your point of view. If you’d like more clarity on Google’s way of gathering information, you can read their privacy statements, where everything is described in detail. It’s even possible to see exactly what Google knows about you, specifically.

You can download  a copy of all the data Google has collected about you through Google Takeout. Follow these steps to download your data:

  1. Go to takeout.google.com.
  2. You’ll be shown a long list of products. Select the products you’d like to include in your information report.
  3. Scroll down to the bottom after selecting the right products.
  4. Click “Next” to be presented with options about how you want the information to be delivered to you. You can choose to receive it as either a .zip or a .tgz file. You can also select the maximum size per file, so they might be easier to navigate. Moreover, you can choose whether you want the data emailed to you, or added to your cloud storage.
  5. Finish the request and wait for the files to come in. You’ll soon have an insight into all the data Google has collected about you over the years.

What Does Google Do With My Data?

Why does Google collect so much data about you and what does the company do with it? As mentioned earlier, Google wants to provide you with more relevant search results and personalized ads. The latter happens mostly for commercial reasons.

Although Google doesn’t sell or share your data directly with third parties, it does use it to enable advertisers to show specific ads to specific people (targeted marketing). After you did a Google search on “sneakers”, you’ll probably start seeing a lot of ads of web shops that sell shoes. This is no coincidence. It’s part of Google’s targeted marketing formula.

Google and Your Privacy

After taking in all this information, you might be a little skeptical about Google and the way it handles, or violates, your privacy. Even so, Google is very transparent about all the data collection they do in their privacy policy. The company even offers some options to help you manage your privacy. With their privacy check-up, it’s possible to take charge of the privacy options of different Google products. On this page, you can view and change your privacy settings per product. You can, for example,k delete your searches in Google Search, manage your search and browsing history on YouTube, and delete your location and internet history.

Google remembers everything if you give it the chance, but these privacy options make it appear as though you’ll be forgotten just as easily. The question is: will the data you choose to delete actually completely and permanently disappear from Google’s systems? The answer is, not exactly.

Some of the data will remain in Google’s systems for as long as you have a Google Account. For example, if you delete your searches, Google will remember the number of times you’ve searched for something. General data about your search behavior is still stored, unlike any more specific information. This general data is anonymized as soon as you close your Google Account.

Finally, it’ll take some time before your data is actually deleted. If you delete your internet history, for example, you instantly won’t be able to find any web pages you visited back on your device. However, it takes an average of two months for your search history to disappear from Google’s servers and six months for your search history to be removed from their backup systems.

How to Remove Information From Google

Have you ever googled your own name? If you do, you may come across outdated or incorrect information about yourself. If others, such as possible future employers, search your name online, they’ll see those same search results. All the more reason to carefully consider what data you’d like to be revealed by a simple Google search. If you’ve published certain information you’d like to remove yourself, you can, of course, tackle the problem at its source and delete it. The information will then disappear from Google’s cache within a few weeks.

It’s a lot harder to delete information that you haven’t posted online yourself. There are several ways to go about this. First of all, you can submit a request to the administrator of the website or forum where the information can be found. If the administrator refuses to cooperate, you can use this form to submit a request to Google to have the information removed from the search results. If you want to read exactly how this works, you can read our article “How to remove your information from Google’s search results“.

If you live in the European Union or another region with good privacy laws, you’ll likely have the right to be forgotten. This means you’re in a better position to protect your own privacy. Google has to adhere to these laws as well. If Google accepts your request, the information source itself will continue to exist, but will be much more difficult to find through Google. However, Google is very selective when it comes to removing information. Nudes shared without consent, for example, are more likely to be removed from the search results than your name and address.

If someone googles your name, your Facebook profile might appear at the top of the search results. If you’d rather keep your Facebook profile out of the search results, you can solve this quite easily. On Facebook, head to Settings and then to Privacy. Make sure the question “Do you want search engines outside Facebook to redirect to your profile?” is answered with “No”. The same is possible for your LinkedIn profile, although chances are you might actually want this profile to appear at the top.

How to Increase Your Privacy on Google

Are you worried about your privacy and do you want to minimize the amount of information Google has about you? Here are some tips:

  • Log out of Google services such as Gmail and YouTube as much as possible. This way, Google will no longer be able to link your browser history directly to your account.
  • Do a privacy check: go through your privacy settings and adjust them.
  • Prevent Google from saving your searches. Go to www.google.com/history and log in with your Google account. Click the “Data & personalisation” option and turn off “Web & app activity”.
  • Use a VPN to encrypt your internet traffic. A good VPN redirects your data via a remote server, so your IP address is no longer visible to everyone. This way you’ll be more anonymous online and Google will have a harder time collecting data about you. However, keep in mind that, even if you have the VPN enabled, Google can still collect information about you when you’re logged in to any of Google’s services. As long as you have an account, Google can build your profile. Therefore, always make sure you log out when using a VPN. ExpressVPN is a good all-round VPN that we wholeheartedly recommend.
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Do you want to fully quit Google (as much as possible)? Then consider the alternatives below:

Final Thoughts

There is nothing inherently evil about Google scanning your information to help advertisers make their ads more relevant to your interests. Some people may decide they prefer advertisements for products and services they are actually interested in over random ads for things they would never buy.

Even so, Google uses your data. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of what information you share with the massive company, and what Google does with all that data.

There are a number of things you can do to limit the information Google collects about you. You can use a VPN or adjust your Google privacy settings in a way that will enhance your privacy. However, even with all of those options, it’s impossible to remain completely anonymous while using Google.

What Does Google Know About You: FAQ

Do you have a question about Google and your privacy? Below you’ll find an overview with our most frequently asked questions. Check whether your question is listed and simply click on the question to see the answer.

All searches you perform on Google are used to build your profile. This information allows Google to draw all sorts of conclusions about you: where you live, what your family situation looks like, what kind of products you like to buy and whether you’re considering looking for another job. This way, Google probably knows more about you than you’d expect. Don’t like this idea? Then opt for an anonymous search engine.

Google gains a lot of information from your searches. Based on this data, Google can already compile a profile of you. Google also gets a lot of information from its other services like Google Maps, Gmail, Chrome, and YouTube. If you want to know exactly what Google might know about you, click here.

Google makes money selling personalized ads. In order to get the highest price and make the most money, these advertisements are composed as accurately and personally as possible. This requires a lot of data. To get this information, Google follows you in everything you do.

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

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