Who you are
Google collects so much data about you that it can even draw a pretty clear picture of your physical appearance. It knows:
- Your full name, gender, age and your phone number. You provided them voluntarily when you created your Google account.
- The way you look. By uploading pictures on Google Photos, you give Google an opportunity to use its facial recognition algorithm and find out how you look.
- The way your voice sounds. Google Assistant might be convenient, but it also records your voice and your conversations.
Your interests and preferences
Google’s business model is based on data mining and user behavior predictions. Therefore, it uses almost every platform it has to collect information on your likes and dislikes. This data creates an accurate user profile that Google can then monetize by serving you targeted ads. So what information does Google have?
- TV shows you like and dislike, your favorite food & drinks, your favorite music, your religion and political views, etc – all gathered through the Chrome browser, Google search engine, Youtube, and other platforms.
- Your favorite places, which are recorded by Google Maps and Waze.
- Books you read and searched on Google Books or other platforms.
- Your shopping habits. These include past and future purchases you made using Chrome or things you looked up on Google search. Google Photos can also scan brand logos and text to identify that you, for example, prefer Nike over Adidas.
- Your activity level as well as your favorite sports, thanks to Google Fit and Google Search.
What’s wrong with targeted ads? Your user profile can be used to influence your decisions – not just what you buy, but which party or candidate you vote for and even what you believe to be true. It also puts you in a so-called ‘filter bubble’, which means that Google will only show you information that fits your profile. You can change your ad preferences by going to your settings.
Your location history
Google is notorious for tracking your location and it does it through widely used apps such as Google Maps and Waze. However, disabling location tracking on these apps doesn’t mean that Google will stop tracking your location completely. It also uses a feature hidden deep in your settings called Web & App activity. It sends Google timestamps indicating your location whenever you use any Google-owned services or apps on any of your devices.
Google Photos also play a big role in location tracking. The company uses AI to group your photos into albums by analyzing your photos’ metadata and geolocation. This creates an even more accurate timeline of where you’ve been.
All of this together means that Google already knows:
- Your location history since the moment you created your Google account or enabled location tracking. You can see your daily, monthly and yearly timelines by going to your account here.
- Your home and work addresses. You might have voluntarily provided this information through Google Maps or Waze. Even if you didn’t, Google can identify them as your home and work based on how much time you spend there.
- Your holiday destinations based on your Google Maps location tracking and Google Photos. They can even predict your travel plans using your Google searches and the flight confirmations saved in your Gmail.
Who your friends and family are
Google doesn’t only want to know who you are, they also want to know who you interact with and who your friends and family are. Its facial recognition not only identifies your face but also the faces of your loved ones and even your pets. Google uses Gmail, your calendar and Google hangouts to identify who you talk to, how often, and when and where you meet.
Your Youtube search history
It might seem that watching funny videos on Youtube is harmless. However, every video you’ve ever watched (or even searched for) has been noted if you did it while signed in to your Google account. Your video history can say as much about you as your Google search – your interests, your future plans, holiday destinations, etc.
All your online activity
The list above isn’t all. Google collects even more data:
- Your Google search history;
- Ads you engaged with or even just viewed;
- Your Gmail history;
- Websites you visited while using Chrome;
- Your engagement on third-party websites, which are tracked by Google Analytics. (You can opt out here.)
This information also syncs between all of your devices as long as you are signed into your Google account. You can see all your searches and app activity by going to your Web & App activity page.
What data does Google have about me?
Google collects a lot of personal data. To see how much exactly, you can head to your account and download an archive. This might take a while, since they may have as much as 20GB of data on you.
How to stop Google from collecting your data
It’s scary to know how much Google knows about you. No company should ever hold that much information about anyone. Not only is it intrusive and violates your privacy, it also creates many cybersecurity risks. This information can be used to influence elections or end up in the hands of a hacker or a third party (which Google has been caught doing).
However, your online privacy and security is in your hands and you can limit or completely eliminate Google’s surveillance if you:
- Use private browsing modes such as incognito mode or private browsers.
- Adjust your Google account’s privacy settings. You can check how private your account is on Google’s Privacy Checkup or you can go to your Activity page and turn the tracking off.
- Delete your previous activity or change the settings so it would be deleted automatically after a certain period of time.
- Make sure that only trustworthy apps have access to your Google account.
- Delete your account and use privacy-oriented Google alternatives.
- Submit a request to remove personal information from Google.