Using Google can help you discover new information and learn more every day, but did you know that the search engine is also learning about you in the process?
Since 2009, Google has allowed users to check on most of the information that it tracks via the “Dashboard” tool, and early in 2015, the company added a feature that allows Chrome users to download their search history.
“We are very aware of the trust that you have placed in us, and our responsibility to protect your privacy and data,” Google said in a 2009 statement regarding its transparency.
Despite these efforts, consumers are typically wary of how accessible this personal data is and what it’s used for. In the Washington Post, Caitlin Dewey noted that while it seems fairly innocent in separate pieces, put together, this collection of data could form a complete profile of you as a person. Google can know your gender and age, the names of your friends and colleagues (from your contacts), and even your location.
While there isn’t necessarily an immediate concern, for your own personal security, it’s important to know what kind of information Google typically gathers and the options you have to minimize it.
What is collected
If you’ve been using Google for any amount of time, you know that your searches are logged. You can see it right on your browser and when you type in searches (the engine offers your previous searches to complete the inquiry as you type). This information helps Google personalize advertisements and track user patterns.
Other services, like email and Docs, are also logged. By viewing your Dashboard, you can see how many contacts you have, emails you’ve sent and received, and the documents you’ve created and that have been shared with you.
Over the last few years, though, Google’s offerings have expanded considerably. It now owns YouTube, meaning it keeps track of your video uploads and searches. There’s also Google Music, Maps, Books and Photos that all create traceable data. For the most part, this is innocuous information, but for those who want more privacy, Google has changed its settings to give users more agency.
How you can change it
In a survey from the Pew Research Center, 90 percent of respondents said they value having control over their personal information, but only 9 percent said they felt like they had any control at all.
Because Google emphasizes user privacy, it does give you the option to adjust your settings to limit how much data the company can collect. For example, you’re able to turn off personal search history and the tools that sync your Chrome data to different devices.
In 2015, Google announced “My Account,” which allows users to see and control their privacy settings. There, you can view details like “your personal info,” which includes your email address, phone number and any Google profile information you might have provided. “Account history,” on the other hand, goes beyond that. It provides a more comprehensive view of your behavior, including a map of your daily travels as well as search and browser activity. You can “pause” the tools that track your activity and location.
While these settings are important for your own personal comfort, there is no way to completely erase yourself from Google’s database unless you want to disappear from the Internet altogether. That’s why taking additional steps to ensure your security and protection against identity theft is so important.
You can invest in a monitoring service like Identity Guard that can monitor certain information and alert you to certain activity that might indicate fraud. This can prompt you to take action, like obtaining a credit freeze, when encountering a threat.