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The majority of us use Google. It opens up the Internet, lets us explore and learn. It helps us expand our minds. And in return, it’s collected information about you.

That much, we know. It’s common knowledge. A phrase that has quite recently become everyday is: “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.” It’s not always true, but when it comes to Google, there’s more than an element of believability.

Google isn’t providing all of those free services out of the goodness of its heart.

Naturally, the amount Google knows about you depends on how much you throw out onto the web and how much you actually use that search engine.

It’s easy to be paranoid too. So what does Google actually know about you?

You Are A Demographic

When it boils down to it, Google is a business and businesses need to know their customers. This means you’re slotted into a demographic slot: basically, that’s your gender and age.

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Businesses build profiles of their target market; search for a publication’s writer’s guidelines/media kits, for instance, and you’ll likely find a document which details who a journalist should aim their piece at. Rather depressingly, demographics are ranked, so one classification is more important to aim for than others. The New Yorker even sets out kits for print, web and tablets, and the amount of information they know about their readers is astonishing.

In the UK, The Sun newspaper claims to reach over 6 million readers a day, 32% of whom are classed as ABC1. This, for most, is the key demographic, encompassing upper and lower middle classes; their occupations are typically high-earning – and that’s what makes them so important. Disposable income makes them perfect for prospective advertisers.

That’s why Google wants to know about you: to tailor adverts to your needs, to tempt you in, to make you interested in their promotions.

Your Interests Are Google’s Interests

This is where it matters.

Much of this depends on if you have a Google account and if you’ve activated the Web History. This tracks what you search for on any device you’re logged in on.

You don’t need an account for Google to know your interests and hobbies, though. Your computer stores cookies; details of what sites you’ve been on in order to retrieve data for when you go on that website again, load it quicker and make it more relevant. If a site only allows you to view a certain number of articles for free per day, it relies on cookies to tell it how many you’ve browsed.

Google uses this information to get to know you better. It knows what sites you go on (just open up Chrome and your most frequented sites will be listed), how long you spend on each, what links you click on (used to determine an article’s relevance to your search), and even your attention span, factored in by your scrolling and the amount of time you peruse a page.

Why do they do this? For advertising, of course!

It’s for your convenience, yes, but it’s also so they can make more money from you.

Google Knows Where You Live

Google sent a big van around your street and photographed where you live. It’s doubtful you missed that happening. It’s likely you’ve gone onto Google Earth and found your own house.

Google Earth 2

But that doesn’t mean they know where you live in particular. Well, not from Google Earth anyway.

Rather, Google knows where you live from your IP address, a unique code sent from your Internet Service Provider to whatever devices you use to go online through your router. Storing this sort of data means Google can provide location-specific results.

And if you’ve ever used My Location on Google Maps in order to get directions from your home to a shopping centre or holiday hotspot, utilising information like IP addresses, the Internet giant can determine with surprising accuracy where you are in the world.

What’s In Your Gmail

If you have Gmail, you’ve already agreed to Google’s Terms of Service, meaning they can automatically scan your emails for keywords in order to, once more, tailor your search results and ads. These terms were updated earlier this year to read:

Our automated systems analyse your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customised search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.

The NSA can also request this information from Google, supposedly to combat terrorism, as can the UK Government (under the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill Privacy In The UK: The Data Retention And Investigation Powers Bill Privacy In The UK: The Data Retention And Investigation Powers Bill Read More ). Who knows how many terrorists actually email each other specifically about bombing campaigns?!

When You Use The Internet

Gym Membership

This might be an obvious one, but often, things staring you in the face can be easily missed!

Google analyses your search results and draws up trends to ascertain when the best time of the year/month/week/day is to advertise a specific product or service. Weight loss programmes spike around January, for example, when many are feeling guilty about their over-indulgence at Christmas and have taken up New Year’s Resolutions.

General trends can be searched for by anyone using the search engine, but Google can look into specific IPs.

What Can Be Done?

If you have a Google account, head over to the Dashboard to tamper with your settings. It doesn’t stop them collecting data on you, but it can limit what they sell on to third parties.

Otherwise, you could delete your cookies How To Manually & Automatically Clear Your Browser History How To Manually & Automatically Clear Your Browser History As you browse the Internet, tracks of websites you visit are left on your computer, including cookies, cached websites, a history of visited sites and searches, site preferences, and more. These data reveal your browsing... Read More , alter privacy setting on social media, disable personalisation How To Disable Google's Personalization Of Search Results How To Disable Google's Personalization Of Search Results Read More , and most obviously… don’t use Google! Some search engines don’t track you, most notable of which is duckduckgo. You can also use Google itself to find out what it knows about you and take the appropriate steps How Much Does Google Really Know About You? How Much Does Google Really Know About You? Read More .

This all depends on how you feel about Google knowing bits and bobs about you. It’s the most used search engine because it’s clear and simple, tailoring information specifically for your needs. The thing that makes it so popular is also what makes it controversial. Before you do anything, you need to ask yourself what is more important to you: convenience or privacy?

Image Credit: Robert Scoble

  1. James
    September 26, 2014 at 3:04 am

    You have to effectively trust the word of any company that has your data: Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Ebay, banks, etc. You and your details are demographics to all companies that make money from you - Nothing new there it was happening before computers were used. If you think moving to Microsoft or Yahoo for your mail is going to make a difference you clearly must not be aware they make money from search advertising as well.

  2. John Fitzgerald
    September 25, 2014 at 10:07 am

    I left the Google ecosystem 2.5 years ago. Dropped Android, Gmail, Google Search, Google Maps, everything.

    I switched over to the Microsoft ecosystem, where I can use Outlook and have email privacy, I use DuckDuckGo for search, I use Mozilla Firefox with script blockers on my PC, etc. I don't have my real name on my Windows phone account either (I use an Icon on Verizon and it's an awesome phone, I'd choose it today over the iPhone 6).

    It's easy to leave Google. I talk to people about it, and they say things like they "can't imagine" leaving Google. It's one of the most boneheaded things I've ever heard from intelligent people. OF COURSE you can leave Google! It's really easy to do. You just do it.

    I don't miss it at all, by the way. I'm far happier in the Windows phone world, it's actually superior in so many way to Android. Smooth, no crashes, no malware, no restarts. Sweet! I have over 100 apps on my phone, it does everything I need it to do.

  3. hotdoge3
    September 25, 2014 at 7:30 am

    Google’s doubleclick ad servers and Zedo ad agency serve millions aggressive malware

    https://www.mywot.com/en/forum/50276-google-s-doubleclick-ad-servers-and-zedo-ad-agency-serve-millions-aggressive-malware

    +not the fist time

  4. Herr Smith
    September 23, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    You'd have to question the quality of Googles data though. For the last 3 months it absolutely insists I'm a German, from a small village in the Schwarzwald, in spite of the fact I was born in Glasgow, live in London, haven't been to Germany for 4 years and certainly don't speak the language. I know where it thinks I live, because it shows me the specific house if I type in 'my location. Unfortunately, my girlfriend (German) goes there every two weeks for work, although we have seperate computers, phones and Google accounts. She on the other hand never has a problem getting English results, even when shes in Germany.

    Big deal, you say. Except that it automatically direct me to German language search results, google shopping results, serves me German ads, and thinks a local Indian restaurant is 400 miles away in a place I've never been near. Except it wouldn't actually use miles. it would helpfully insist on km, which I don't think in, and Euros, which I dont use if its giving me prices. This is true even if I use google.com. The most irritating and disconcerting is when I bring up youtube on the TV; text ads I don't get is one thing, but being served particularly enthusiastically teutonic video ads I can't understand for products I've never heard of is jarring. Its not just my home network. It does the same on wifi elsewhere and when I'm on my (Apple) phone

    At some point I must have logged into her account to fix some setting for her, or left myself logged in somewhere on her phone and its taking that as gospel for evermore. Especially odd as I've got just about every privacy addon going, and firefox even dumps cookies when I've left a page. I've tried everything short of a full reinstall. BUT, Firefox does have a known "bug" (probably a feature to google) in current versions that regenerates the same basic unique cookie whatever you do. I'm told it isn't a plot. Really.

    At least my girlfriends mother finds it extremely funny, and I know google has zero chance of selling me anything. Ever.

  5. KustenWatche
    September 23, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    There are many search engines that do not track you amongst them StartPage (Ixquick), Aviator ( a White Hat Security Co. known for it's internet security to large corporations),Duck Duck Go, Epic and these are only the ones I know of. I use Hushmail, which blocks images by default, Tunnel Bear a VPN, changed all my passwords into German all in an effort not to be found by the likes of Google. But to what avail? I do nothing nefarious but I do pay for my internet bandwidth and if these organizations want to track me and compile a history then let them pay me since " I am the product"! If everyone would adopt a similar philosophy I would enjoy seeing how far that organization would then go . As the song says "Pay Me Your Money Down".

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