Explained: What google knows about me? | What Google Does with Your Data?

If you use any Google products out there like Android, Google Photos, Google Drive, Gmail, Youtube, and more. 

And have been curious about what Google actually does with the data it collects, this is going to be the article for you.

For years now we've been seeing a trend from companies like Apple on how privacy is paramount and how important it is that Apple doesn't make money off of your data. In 2021 though it's really hard to use any service that isn't collecting data on you. You may have bought an iPhone but you're probably still using apps that collect quite a bit of data on you like Facebook and Instagram. 

Now Google is another large company out there that has many apps and services that do collect data from its users.

What types of data Google collects from its users?

According to the company, it collects several different types of information from you like

  • Personal information - Your name, Billing address, Email address, A password that's associated with your Google account, If you add a phone number or payment information to your account, that would be considered personal information as well

  • Google also collects content that you create upload or receive from others while using Google services - Emails you write and receive, photos and videos that you save, docs and spreadsheets that you create, and comments that you leave on YouTube videos. 
  • Google also creates information about the apps browsers and devices you use to access Google services - If you use a pixel device, your pixel will periodically ping Google servers and provide Google with information about your device and connection to various Google services. This information includes device type, carrier name, crash reports, and which apps I have installed. 
  • Activity is another big area of data that Google collects - Such as the terms you search for in Google search, videos you watch, views and interactions with content and advertisements, voice and audio information when you use audio features, purchase activity, people who you communicate with or share content with, activities on third-party sites and apps that use Google services, and Chrome browsing history you've synced with your Google account. 
  • Google also collects location data information which helps it offer you services like driving directions through Google Maps. 

Now how does Google know your current location?

Google uses a variety of sources like GPS, IP address, sensor data from your devices, and information about things near your device like Wi-Fi access points, cell towers, and Bluetooth-enabled devices. 

So that's a lot of data that Google is collecting from you and I do want to point out that there are ways for you to limit the amount of data Google does collect from you but.

What information does Google have on me?

Knowing that Google is tracking you is one thing, but knowing that it is tracking a click through to my website, my website content, my social media channels is quite another. Yes, you could argue that Google has certain rights to track all those things.

The kind of data Google collects includes:

  • The places I look up in Google Maps and where you’ve been.
  • The websites I've visited.
  • The pages I've been searching for.
  • What I've bought on Google Shopping.
  • When I do a Google search or use a Google search engine.
  • How often I do or search for a certain kind of activity.
  • Whether I receive a notification from Google on my phone.
  • How many times I've used Android devices.
  • Google has also made it pretty easy to track activity even when you've removed the Google search bar from your browser.  
  • Android users can track their location and activities even when using the Chrome browser and disabling the sync feature of Chrome (which most do).
  • The questions you ask your Google Assistant.
  • Google and Facebook aren't the only companies tracking you. There are a lot of popular web services that track you for advertising purposes.

Google can guess everything from your marital status, your income and your health to even your political affiliation based on the pages you've visited in the past.

Why Google is collecting this data from you in the first place?

There are five main reasons why Google does this:

  • Provide personalized services including content and advertisements.
  • Measuring performance.
  • Communicating with you.
  • To build better services.
  • Maintain and improve those services.
  • Develop new services

Now the biggest reason by far Google collects data on its users is to provide personalized services including content and ads. 

Targeted advertising is one of the main ways that Google generates revenue as a company

What exactly is targeted advertising? 

Unlike in the Mad Men days of advertising when advertisers would pay to put an ad on TV or in the newspaper and typically targeted a broad demographic, targeted advertising allows advertisers to target a much more specific audience.

 For example - As an advertiser, I can target a subsection of the area where I live say Delhi, a specific demographic within that subsection, say men 18 to 34, and characteristics about that subsection. 

So let's say we want to target our ads to men ages 18 to 34 who are interested in mobile phones, in consumer electronics, and to subscribe to a mobile network or ISP. 

Google was one of the first companies that pioneered this type of advertising because of the data it collects from its users. As advertisers are willing to pay more for a targeted ad than a general one because targeted advertisements are thought to do better because they reach an audience that is more likely to buy the product or service being advertised. 

It's important to note that Google will not show you personalized ads based on sensitive categories like race, religion, sexual orientation, or health. 

Now it wouldn't be fair to just talk about Google's data collection practices in terms of selling its products to advertisers. It is true that to continue to exist, a company like Google needs to generate revenue, but at the same time they're generating revenue, they also need to make sure they're providing value to the users whose data they are collecting. 

So that's why a lot of the time the data that you give Google is actually used to help you throughout your day while using Google services. 

How your data help Google?

Your data helps Google do things like get the fastest directions to your destination through Google Maps, autocomplete searches, find YouTube videos for you to watch, help autocomplete forms for you in Chrome, help you search through your own information like appointments on your calendar, or people in your contacts, and of course the Google assistant would not be as useful as it is without access to your data. 

How to stop Google from collecting your data?

Now, Google does give you some options to turn off specific features of its data collection. You can opt-out of personalized ads as well as see what categories of interest Google has placed you in, based on the data it's collected from you. 

You can turn off specific categories that aren't relevant to you to make the ads Google shows you more relevant. 

You also have the ability to turn off web app activity, location history tracking, and YouTube history to show you personalized ads.

Follow these steps to the turnoff Google's data collection 

1. Click the Google account profile picture.

2. Then click Manage your Google account.

3. And then click on Data and Personalisation

4. Then you can see what are data of yours that collecting by Google and you can turn off it.

Does Google store any sensitive or personal information?

Personal and sensitive user data includes, but isn't limited to, personally identifiable information, contact information, billing and subscription information, authentication information, content, and application data.

What do Google's Cookies do?

Google’s Web cookies are used to improve the user's experience, for example, keeping you logged in to a Google service. Web cookies may also be used to customize the presentation of some search results. 

Google also uses third-party advertising companies to serve ads and related content. These companies also place cookies on your computer when you visit Google’s websites. 

How do I turn off Web cookies?

Web cookies can be set to "do not track" in the Privacy section of the Google Privacy Portal or by going to Ads Settings > Web & Mobile (or Clear Browsing Data for Chrome).

Does Google sell that data to third-party companies? 

In short, no. This is actually one of the biggest misconceptions people have about Google and its data collection policies. Google does not sell any of your personal data to third-party companies. 

Companies use Google's ad platforms to show you ads that they think will be relevant to you but those companies themselves do not get the data set that Google owns, the data Google collects from you is too valuable for Google to give it away. 

Google's ad business is one of the primary sources of income for the company and it's what allows the company to create such innovative products. Google's proposition for its products and services is a trade-off just like anything else in life. 

While most Google services are free to use you are giving them something of value in return, which is your data. 

Here You can learn more about Google's data collection and privacy policies 

Is Google really spying on me?

Well not really: Google collects data about how you use its devices, apps, services, and advertisements to target advertising. That means that Google is, to put it lightly, interested in your habits and preferences. However, it's worth noting that this information isn't used to create ads, but rather to serve you relevant ads or experiences based on your actions.

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