Last week I read a wonderful missive from JR Raphael on what Google knows about you. In essence, Google knows more about you than you think, and could know more than you know about you and your habits.
From face-tagged photos of my past adventures (what year did I go to Nashville, again—and who went with me to that Eddie Vedder show?) to the minute-by-minute play-by-play of my not-so-adventuresome days (wait, you mean I really only left the house once last Wednesday—and just to get a freakin’ sandwich?!), Google’s got all sorts of goods on me. Heck, even my hopes and dreams (which may or may not involve sandwiches) are probably catalogued somewhere in its systems.
Google’s machine learning and artificial intelligence efforts rummage through all the data they collect on each of us– whether we’re browsing the web, using Gmail, hangout on Hangout, or just save photos to Google Drive– to form an accurate and potentially damaging picture of our lives. Online and offline.
Google also compiles oodles of stats—stats that, for better and for worse, shed light onto the tech-connected habits of our modern lives. How many emails have you actually sent over the years, for instance, and how many thousands of webpages have you pulled up in your browser? It really is enlightening, among other things, to see your actions broken down so precisely.
It might be easy to dismiss this as, “Well, it’s just Google. They don’t share the information about me with anyone else. Right?” On a personally identifying basis, probably not, but data collected is data analyzed and data shared. If 1-billion email accounts can be hacked at Yahoo! then data can be hacked at Google.
By agreeing to let Google store and use your data, you’re getting access to an ever-expanding array of futuristic features at no monetary cost.
In other words, it’s an agreement that we make with Google. They give us free software and services, and we give them data about ourselves (rather, the option to collect data).
Raphael runs through a list of 14 different personal details that Google knows about most of its users– you, if you have Gmail or browse the interwebs– and the extent of the collection efforts is more than a little scary.
- Voice command – with your voice
- Contacts – Google knows your BFFs
- Chrome data – if you search, Google knows
- Gmail conversations – All. Of. It.
- Maps tracking – they know where you went
- Android – use Android? Google knows all
- Websites – use Chrome and it’s tied to you
- Searches – number of searches and where
- Android everything – apps and devices
- Habits – do you accept invitations? Google knows
- Play Store – all your app purchases
- YouTube – if you watched it, Google knows
How does that list of details not freak out everyone who can spell Google or uses an Android phone? Raphael gives a few links to ways to opt out of some of the data collection and how to delete some of it, too, but any third party entity that knows that much information about users should have some kind of oversight or warning flags raised.
Recently, I came across Privacy Badger, a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera (and, oddly enough, not Safari) which works a bit like Ghostery but has more features and more user options. Give it a try. It’s from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.