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January 7, 2019

What Does Google Really Know About You?

Author: Valerie Baker

A few weeks ago, the CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, was questioned by Congress about political bias in Google search and other Google products. We’re not here to get political, but one thing that came up frequently in their questioning was about what Google is capable of in terms of tracking our data and storing our information.

With the Cambridge Analytica scandal, similar questioning of Mark Zuckerberg earlier this year, and passing of the GDPR – how our information is being collected online and what is being done with it has been a huge topic in 2018 and will continue to be explored moving forward in 2019.

So, the question is – what information does Google know about you? Most people who are using their phones or computers daily are interacting with Google and its products regularly, but most don’t know much about Google’s privacy policies. Although there are some conspiracy theorists out there who will tell you there’s much more to this, here’s what we know about what data Google tracks about you.

What Does Google Know About Me?

Through Google’s search engines, Internet-related services, apps, and acquired companies, it tracks information you input. Through their privacy policies and terms and conditions (those things that most people never really read), we are authorizing them to collect this data. Some commonly used applications and what they collect are:

  • Google Chrome: Browsing history
  • Google Search: Queries searched
  • Google Ads: Ads clicked on, topics interested in
  • Google Photos: People and places tagged
  • Google Maps: Locations visited, places searched, methods of transportation, dates traveled
  • YouTube: Videos watched, liked and uploaded
  • Google Shopping: Products searched and clicked on

Basically, what you do when you’re using Google products is most likely going to be storing information and creating a picture of who you are with that data. Which leads us to our next question…

What Is Google Doing with My Information?

Through your browser history, photos, locations, and more, Google now knows places you visit, the things you’re interested in, what you’re shopping for, what you look like, who your friends are, and more.

Although Google is known to the public mostly as a search engine, it is known mostly to marketers as an advertising medium. There are various ways to advertise through Google – through search ads, display, shopping ads, video ads, and more. Google uses your information to place you in certain demographics which are available to advertisers when they decide who they want to target through various platforms. For example, if we are setting up display ads through Google, we have the option to target through demographics like age, gender, parental status, and location. But beyond that we can target on interests & behaviors – everything from “Animal Lovers” to “Frequently Dines Out,” and beyond. We can also target based on purchase intent, with options to target someone who is in market for anything from a new home, to software products.

So, Is It Good or Bad?

Some people might think it’s an invasion of privacy for Google to have access to what we feel is private information. As marketers, we like having specific targeting options available to us so we can get in front of our target audience easily and not waste our clients’ time or money. As a consumer, I would rather have relevant ads served to me for things I’m interested in, even if that means my personal information is being used. For example, if I’m searching for different kinds of tools or software we can use as an agency to make us more efficient, and I am getting served ads for new business technology for marketers, I may discover a new product that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

However, not everyone is going to like how much information Google has access to, and you may want to limit the amount of data you are giving away. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network)
  • Use private browsing (a.k.a. Incognito Mode)
  • Adjust your privacy setting through Google’s Activity Controls
  • Turn off location reporting in Google maps
  • Use a different browser or Search Engine
  • Delete your Google accounts

Unless you go completely off the grid, it’s a fact of life that the more technology we use, the more information we’re giving up and is being stored about us. But, with all the controversy this year, it has at least created more transparency around what Google actually knows about us. For more information, visit Google’s Privacy Site for a comprehensive overview of their privacy policy.

Valerie Baker

Valerie is the Senior Account Manager & Project Manager here at Atilus.

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