It is easy to take Google for granted, isn’t it? The search engine has become so ubiquitous that it has become its own verb. In fact, for many it is hard to imagine a time when a world of information wasn’t at our fingertips; from politics to weather, shopping to entertainment and all points in between. The world feels like it is truly at our fingertips.
It is convenient to have access to so much information and Google has made it so very convenient to use its services for email, maps, and videos in addition to its search. It is estimated that there were 98.5 million smartphone users on the Google Android platform in 2015 in the United States alone. That number is expected to rise to 107.7 million users in the U.S. in 2016. Between YouTube, Android, and its search network, Google has access to a LOT of data.
Have you ever wondered what that means for you? What does Google know about you? After all, every search you make and every video you view helps to feed Google data on your habits and your likes.
Have you ever thought about your contribution to the Google data empire?
If you are like most people, chances are you haven’t thought about it at all. Some sophisticated users may realize that their search history is feeding into their ad suggestions or their video history influences their suggested videos, but most people don’t think about the data much beyond that. Google, it seems, would like to change that way of thinking. It is offering a new and improved “My Activity” page to show its users what is being collected and where.
Why would Google offer such insight? The company’s motto has always been, “Don’t Be Evil.” Under the new parent, Alphabet, the motto has evolved into, “Do The Right Thing.” In keeping with its corporate culture, it seems that Google is trying to build the best, most intuitive service provider while offering its users some control. So what does Google track exactly? The company breaks it into three major categories.
“The Things You Do”, which includes:
- Your web searches on Google
- The websites you visit
- The videos you watch
- The ads you interact with
- Your location, both physical and your IP address and cookie data
- Your device information (mobile, desktop or tablet)
“The Things You Create” which includes the following when put through the Google suite of services such as Gmail and Drive:
- Your calendar events
- Your emails
- Your contacts
- Photos and videos
- Docs, sheets and slides on Drive
“The Things That Make You, You” which includes all of the information you willingly give to Google when you sign up, including:
- Your name
- Your email address and password
- Your birthday
- Your gender
- Your phone number
- Your country of residence
All of this can seem very overwhelming when laid out in such a manner, doesn’t it? To be fair, all of this data helps to improve the search results you receive, the videos that are suggested to you as well as countless little features we take for granted, like auto-complete. On the flip side, it also allows Google to use this data to help show targeted ads and sponsored content.
In order to help its users feel more in control with the amount of data that Google has at its fingertips, the platform is making it easier for users to access their account and their history. It is making it very simple to tell the search juggernaut what you want to be used and what you don’t. On the myactivity.google.com page, users can opt out of location tracking and delete past search history. Users can also log into their account and run a privacy check-up to ensure that each user is only sharing what they want to share.
Cynics will be quick to point out that Google does use the data to make money through its advertising ventures, but the data is never disseminated or distilled to target a single individual or even a group of individuals. Instead, it is used to help create keyword specific ads to provide the right content to the right people at the right time.
Love it or hate it, Google does have a world of data at its disposal. Data that we all hand over to them freely and typically without regard. At least now Google is trying to be as transparent as possible with their use of that data. You might say they are trying to “do the right thing.” At the very least, you can be sure that with location tracking, search result tracking and auto-complete help; ordering the perfect pizza to your door is quick and easy… As long as you don’t mind sharing a slice of the data with Google.