What Does Google Know About Me: Project Invisibility

by Darina Lynkova

If you are one of those people who think what’s personal should stay personal, well…

Bad news for you.

Nowadays it would be a good thing if Google didn’t know the color of your underwear for the day.

The question we can all ask ourselves today is perennial:

What does Google know about me?

Now:

Google is Like a Modern Version of God.

Google is like a god in the omnipresent and omniscient sense. Not literally. Right?

As human beings, we ask a lot of questions. In the old days, we used encyclopedias. Now we have Google and it is so much more than that. It can give you results to questions like:

Why don’t people like me?

I bet you couldn’t find that in an encyclopedia. And that’s great! At some point, people are going to start trusting Google more than any authority out there.

And then there is the other side of the matter:

Google is also like an all-seeing presence in our lives that knows everything about us. A contemporary Big Brother that collects data about every web search you ever made, every payment, names of your friends and family (and their personal records), every trip outside of town you ever made. The list goes on and on… and on!

And the creepy thing is – they do it without permission.

Hail Google!

But seriously:

How much does Google know about me?

Let me put it this way:

If you have top-secret stuff to hide, you better not use Google Chrome or Gmail.

It’s a good idea to also avoid Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram…  

In general, stay OFFLINE!

Did you know:

In May 2019, Google’s share of the global search engine market is 92.04%.  

In addition, Google Chrome claims 57.4% of the global search engine market in 2019, which makes it the most popular search engine out there.  

Google Almighty!

Its dominion happened gradually, and now we can’t go without it. Google is a constellation of platforms – Chrome, Maps, Translate… Maybe you can imagine life without one of them, sure, but can you quit them all? Let me tell you, you can’t!

OK, but why is Google collecting information about us?

How Did It Come to This?

Two major reasons – the global fight against terrorism and the advances of technology, and more specifically – the advances in machine learning.

I’ll walk you through it:

There is a lot going on in the world nowadays. Security measures, surveillance cameras and drones everywhere, luggage scanning at airports and large institutions – those are just what we see on the surface.

There was an age when the only people who knew what’s happening in your personal life were the 83-year-old downstairs neighbor and the crazy cat lady next door. That age is long gone!

We all like to do some (benevolent!) eavesdropping from time to time, and yes, there should be limits!

But what happens online? Is your smartphone secure? What about your Google search profile?

Well:

You have probably heard the phrase:

You have nothing to fear if you’ve got nothing to hide.

It kinda sounds like both a confession and a warning.

Уes, we are spying on you, behave yourself and there will be no consequences.

Ouch!

Governments are allegedly spying to find terrorists (or other spies). That’s basically their excuse to spy on literally everyone! And search engines are spying on you to find out your preferences and ensure the advertisements you see are the ones most likely to tempt you.

In other words, Google tracks your purchases online and is able to suggest advertisements to you with uncanny accuracy. There is a Google advertising profile for everyone out there.

Easy peasy!

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The name of Edward Snowden can’t possibly go unmentioned here. Thanks to the guy, at least we put web camera blockers on our laptops. We are also much more careful about the things we say when there are smartphones around (if that’s even possible).

He played the thankless role of a messenger who had to break the bad news for us. (At least now we stopped going around naked in front of our unprotected devices. Just put a cam-blocker and you’ll be fine!).

Technology allows almost anyone to spy on whoever they want. Smartphones can be hacked without your knowledge, cameras on any device can be turned on, and your microphones are sensitive to what you are saying. It’s the full package.

Data monitoring is a part of our everyday lives now. And it’s not going anywhere!

Privacy violations, data breaches, stolen identities, and personal data, leaked naked pictures and credit card data, cyberbullying

Do those things sound familiar to you?

This is the world we live in now, and the best thing we can do is to adjust.

After 9/11 everything changed. National security became every country’s priority. That is the cornerstone in history when the world made the transition from exceptional surveillance to the global surveillance of every individual.

The old story where the detective goes around, physically following people, exists only in fiction and movies now.

Today they are tracking you via your own device (that you paid for!).

But how are 9/11 and the data Google collects related?

Well:

Thanks to Snowden, the world knows the NSA had access to the databases of both Facebook and Google.

Bingo!

In an interview in 2018, Elon Musk said people, in general, didn’t care about their privacy.

Yeah, right!

People have gone as far as committing suicide because of exposed records of intimate moments.

In the past, people have fought for all sorts of things: human rights, civil rights, slavery abolition, women’s rights, gay rights, the freedom of speech. You name it!

Nowadays we can add one more to the list: the right for privacy!

And this time it affects ALL of us!

You’ll say:

If it’s Not Naked Pictures or Videos, What Could be That Important?

It can literally be anything.

From the interview, you did behind the back of your current employer, to the pregnancy test you paid for with your MasterCard but didn’t want your boyfriend to know about.

Did you know:

Google and MasterCard have signed an agreement that Google will have access to the database of all payments via MasterCard. Oh well…

The funny thing is, even if you deny Google access to your private records, it will continue collecting data anyway.

It feels like we have a little stalker to deal with (lurking behind the screen of your device).  

How Does Google Collect Information?

Google uses many platforms to collect data on every user. They are super cool and useful. Not only for us but for Google as well.

The flow of data goes both ways – from Google to the users, and from the users back to Google!

Let’s see:

There’s Google Chrome, Google Maps and Google Earth, Gmail, YouTube (oh yes!), Hangouts, Google Calendar, Google Photos, Google Finance, Google Books, Google Translate…

Yes, I got dizzy too!

Every web search you ever performed enters a database and gets analyzed so Google can enhance your experience.  

That’s not all! Google collects the information about the search results we click on.  Knowing the browsing preferences of a few billion people is a piece of ridiculously powerful information to have.

Google Docs is another valuable source of carefully stored information. Every document you ever uploaded or edited stays in their database!

Google records your voice via the microphone of your devices and recognizes your face via the camera. And there you have it – an entire database dedicated to you and your preferences.

Nice!

How Does This Information Get Collected?

First, let’s answer a quick question: since when does Google collect information?

Let’s start with some Google stats and facts to get a perspective:

  • Google was officially launched on September 4, 1998, and is currently 21 years old.
  • Google Chrome was launched on September 2, 2008, and is now 10 years old.
  • In 2004 Gmail was born. It is now 15 years old and has approximately 1.5 billion users.
  • In 2005 Google Maps was launched. It is the world’s most popular mapping app. In 2014 Google Maps had over 1 billion active monthly users.
  • In 2005 Google purchased Android and has been its developer ever since. In 2019, Android is the world’s most popular OS.
  • 75.27% of the global mobile OS market runs on Android.
  • Google has owned YouTube since October 2006. The deal was worth $1.6 billion.
  • The current CEO of Google is Sundar Pichai. He has held that position since October 2, 2015.
  • In 2018 Google had almost 100,000 employees.

Oh yes, Google is a giant, and that inevitably comes with its pros and cons. It’s the most popular search engine in the world and the most favored by desktop and mobile users alike. It loads quickly, and thanks to machine learning and turned on location settings, it produced the best query outcomes for you, the user. It gives fewer ads than Yahoo! and Bing, but the ads we see on Google are more user-specific.

On the other hand, Google is filtering the information for you without your knowledge. It performs invisible algorithmic editing of the web, based on your preferences.

How does that sound?

Did you know:

The results you see on Google are unique to you…

It’s personalized for everyone. In other words, no 2 people will have the same search results for the same query. Google shows us what it thinks we want to see…

All this is possible because of data collection!

We can even say that Google is dictating the way we think on certain topics. It ranks pages, it has an opinion of its own. If you use another search engine, like DuckDuckGo, your search results are going to be different from the ones you got from Google. (Even though it also uses the Google engine.)

But more about DuckDuckGo in a moment.

How Does Google Track You?

Now:

Google uses machine learning algorithms to classify information and provide you with great suggestions. It can be a YouTube suggestion, a product that you might be interested in buying. And yes, Google also keeps a record of your searches on YouTube.

Not only the web searches, nope!

Even if you have disabled the GPS on your phone, your phone will still track the wi-fi network you have logged on and where it is situated.

By the way:

I just changed my Chrome theme (pink, of course!) and I am absolutely sure that went on my record somewhere. Just saying.

I’m sure you have already figured out that Google has your contact information. What’s more, thanks to Facebook and the advances in facial recognition – it also knows how you look. Finally, if you use Google Home or Siri or Alexa, Google definitely knows what you sound like as well.  

But what else?

How Well Does Google Know You?

Who am I, Google?

At 3 o’clock in the morning, you sit in front of the laptop with a box of ice cream on the side and type those words in your Chrome browser. And yes, that sounds a little bit like an identity crisis. But you can get an answer to the question. You just need to know where to look.

When you log in, go to settings and have a look at what’s happening there. We’ll talk about how to put an end to Google collecting data on you in a moment.

Every time you perform a web search, or download an app on Google Play Store, or make an online purchase, or connect to a wi-fi network – Google stores that information.

Those secret registers contain our secrets. It’s a gold mine for advertising companies.

Google knows where you drink your coffee, what books you like to read, what movies you have seen, and who are your relatives and friends. Google uses the microphones on your devices to listen for potentially useful information.

Google completes your web searches automatically and caters to your every whim.

Google can even predict the future:

What Does Google Know About My Future Plans?

Did you search for accommodation and trip information on Chrome? And maybe you used Google Maps to research your destination?

Yup!

So yes: Google does know about your future plans!

Your search history tells it all. If you searched for concert tickets or the best price of that TV set you’re thinking of buying during the upcoming Black Friday, Google knows.

It also knows every ad you have ever clicked on – and every Amazon gift card you have ever sent to a friend.

Every time you use a Google product, it will store the data and add it to your Google profile.

Did you know:

If you have an Android device, you should be aware that Google collects even more information on you via Android.

Oh well.

Google, My Preferences and My Online Profile

Let’s have a short Q&A session, shall we?

Here we go:

Does Google know you better than anyone?

In a way – yes!

It knows what you like and dislike better than the best of your friends. (If you need proof – think of the relevant adult content that no friend of yours will think of suggesting. But Google will.)

In some aspects, we might even say that Google knows you better than yourself. (Bear with me!)

Consider for a moment that Google stores the information of all the locations you’ve ever been to. Inevitably, even you have forgotten about some of them…

Ouch!

Does Google Know My Name?

Of course, it does!

If you have a Gmail account, you’ve given Google loads and loads of information about yourself. Your name doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Thanks to machine learning, a recent innovation was introduced to Gmail: now it will make suggestions based on the content of the emails you write. It will help you finish your phrase, come up with an uncannily relevant Subject, or just suggest possible short replies to the letter you are answering.

Yes, “creepy” is the word you are looking for!

How Does Google Track You?

One thing is for sure – Google tracks you all the time. Whether via certain location settings you have turned on, your IP address, the wi-fi networks you log on during the day – you name it.

It is not much you can do about it either, save for never going online ever again. (LOL, I know.)

Quitting Google Maps is still kind of impossible because there is no alternative. We’ll be using that one for the foreseeable future.

(Have you noticed that the moment you go to another country, YouTube starts to advertise in the language of the country you are located? You certainly never gave it your permission to do that!)  

Bottom line:

Google sells information to ensure you’ll get the best advertisements according to your preferences. Everyone has an online Google profile, filled to the brim with information about you. (If someday someone starts making a robot army, they can use that information to give every robot a personality and make a replica of the world. Just a thought!)

Protect your data, guys!

It’s a GREAT idea to limit Google’s data collection on you as much as possible.

How do you do that?

I am so glad you asked!

Project Invisibility: Go!

Is There a Way to Make the Tracking and Collecting of Information STOP?

We don’t think of Google’s privacy invasion every day. And yet, the matter is more serious than most of us give it credit for.

How to find what Google thinks about me?

All you need to do is log into your account and go to:

www.google.com/settings/u/0/ads

You can switch off your ad personalization from there.

Translation – you are now going to receive random advertisements. Naturally, Google will strongly advise you not to do that.

What you should be aware of, though, is:

Google will still know your location no matter what you do. How? Like I said, using the location of the wi-fi network you are logged on, for example.

Here comes the fun one!

If you go to:

https://myaccount.google.com/dashboard

You can manage your Google account. You can see the history of your searches, the number of your Gmail conversations and your contacts, and your birthday, and the number of your documents on Google Drive, and the number of your YouTube subscriptions.

Another good idea is to check My Activity. Here is what you can do:

Open Chrome, and visit myactivity.google.com and check out what information Google is storing about you.

Go to Activity Controls and pause all the data collection.

Now:

Another option is to go to your Chrome History, and then hit Clear Browsing Data. You can adjust the settings, and Google will save your browsing data for the selected period of time. (For example, you can set it on Last Hour, or Last 24 hours. Whatever works for you.)

Easy peasy!

#invisibility

Let’s say NO to online vulnerability!

Also:

Cookies are a “great” way to stalk you as well. Upon arrival, some websites ask you to accept their cookies (how cool would it be if they gave you an actual cookie every time you visited a website instead!). Well, and by accepting the cookie you literally give them permission to follow you. You can delete cookies in Chrome History – Clear Browsing Data.

Bottom line:

Delete your cookies regularly, guys!

Now, there are other ways to stop Google from peeking behind the curtain of your personal life.

You can significantly reduce Google’s knowledge of you by using other search engines instead of Chrome or switch to other mail apps.

Here are some of the more popular options:

You can start using Firefox, DuckDuckGo , switch to ProtonMail, and install uBlock to block Google’s tracking algorithms.   

Firefox takes pride in the privacy of your searches. But unlike DuckDuckGo, they do collect a minimum amount of data to make your experience better.

Now:

You can install DuckDuckGo separately or add it as an extension to Firefox and Chrome. (Though it’s uncertain how much use there is for it on the latter.)

At least on Firefox, your data will no longer be out there and you even receive a privacy guarantee. DuckDuckGo even grades the privacy level of every website you open – pretty nifty! (Check out the privacy grade of a YouTube video. It’s an eye opener!)

ProtonMail is a Swiss encrypted email service. They make it a point to ensure the privacy of your data. They don’t even collect data about your IP – your location remains unknown.  

Again:

What does Google know about me?

After all those changes – way less!

Most importantly – don’t forget to do these adjustments on ALL your devices!

Activate Ghost Protocol.

Now:

Pros and Cons of Collecting Information

On one hand, Google is quite straightforward about data collection. This information is not hidden, but you need to know where to look. If you have a Google Account, they have your info.

Sure, but:

On the other hand, all this data collection has made all the difference in the world. The advances in every possible field of study are largely possible because of the large quantities of data. Through classification and the miracle of machine learning, humanity has finally entered the age of artificial intelligence.

Artificial Intelligence has already affected our lives in a variety of positive ways – and keeps raising the stakes. This article of ours can show you just how!

Now you can easily answer the question:

What information does Google collect about me?

Let’s wrap it up then:

To Sum Up

Is Google spying on me is a popular web search line. Many people are interested to know if and how Google collects information about them.

Awareness is everything! Protect yourselves, guys. We mentioned the few simple measures we can take against unwanted data collection. If you’re worried about how much Google knows about you, take the time to do this and you’ll restore your peace of mind.

Now:

Every now and then we need Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak (keep the other hallows, we just want the cloak!).

When it comes to our online presence – we have a few slightly technical steps to take and gain a virtual cloak of invisibility.

Now you can ask friends and family:

How much does Google know about me?

Boom! You are an expert now!

Google is the most frequently visited multi-platform website in the US. And yes, its existence in our lives has made all the difference in the world. But when it comes to collecting private data, there are limits.

Today we asked ourselves the question:

What does Google know about me?

Well, if everything went according to the plan, Google will know less about you in the future. Keep your private data – private.

See you soon, guys!

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