Google is an important part of our life.
From using the myriad of apps on our phone to searching for things on the search engine, Google is almost omnipresent.
Digital Marketing and Google are almost inseparable.
The entire world of SEO is built largely around Google.
While this has amazing benefits, it does pose some issues…
And some of these are actually detrimental to our society.
According to Science Magazine, students remember less when they know that they can access the information on the computer later.
But let’s come back to the subject at hand…
Is Google spying on you?
How google tracks your personal information?
And can you stop it?
The multiple devices, apps, and services that you use.
Google knows them all.
The scary thing is that Google’s tentacles
are longer and deeper than you can ever imagine.
In fact, last year, seven consumer organizations from across Europe
filed complaints against Google for GDPR privacy violations.
They mentioned the following Practices used by Google to nudge users into sharing location data:
Deceptive click-flow: the click-flow when setting up an Android device pushes users into enabling ‘Location History’ without being aware of what it entails.
Hidden default settings: when setting up a Google account, the ‘Web & App Activity’ settings are hidden behind extra clicks and enabled by default.
Misleading and unbalanced information: users are not given sufficient information when presented with choices, and are misled about what data is collected and how it is used.
Repeated nudging: users are repeatedly asked to turn on ‘Location History’ when using different Google services even if they decided against this feature when setting up their phone.
Bundling of services and lack of granular choices: if the user wants features such as Google Assistant and photos sorted by location, Google turns on invasive location tracking.
Let’s break this down into two areas…
How does Google collect information about you…
And how Google uses that data!
What information does Google collect about you?
Here is the answer from the search engine giant itself:
Now that you know how does Google get information from you,
Let’s get into the meat of this to answer the pertinent question-
Is Google spying on you!
Google Spying On the Web
Start with the Activity Controls page in your Google Account.
Here, you will find six sections:
- Web & App Activity
- Location History
- Device Information
- Voice & Audio Activity
- YouTube Search History
- YouTube Watch History
Next to each section, you will find a toggle switch.
For example, in the image above,
you can see a toggle next to “Web & App Activity.”
Here, if you switch it off, a pop-up will appear:
Address the first two sections,
Web & App Activity and Location History.
These track everything you do on the Web
when you are signed into Chrome/Google/Google apps.
You can also click on “Manage Activity” and choose to delete automatically.
You will see everything you did with Google apps and products here…
From the websites you visited to the apps you opened.
You can also have Google automatically wipe the data.
Here are the options you will see when you click
the “Choose to delete automatically” button.
The “Filter by date & product” option is awesome.
Here, you will see a cluster of apps covered by tracking-
Ads, Android, Assistant, Chrome, and many others.
Google saves the locations where you carry your devices.
What’s scary is that they have your location history even when you aren’t using a specific Google service.
If you navigate to the Manage activity link,
you will see the records on a map in the form of red dots.
The drop-down menu on the top left allows you to filter based on a specific range of dates.
The trash icon on the lower right corner allows you to erase data from Google.
Here is a screenshot to help you:
Google also keeps a copy of some data from your phone and tablet.
These include contacts, calendars, apps, music, and battery level.
There is not much to do here except deleting all data.
Voice & Audio Activity
Remember the last time you said “Hey Google”
to the Assistant on your phone?
This section stores all your commands.
Here is an example:
More like a personal assistant, right?
The three dots on the right allow you to delete the stored command.
You can also use the trash icon to delete an entire day activity
Also, a fun activity, to hear what you said when!
YouTube Search History & YouTube Watch History
These are the last two sections we will cover.
I am adding them in the same section here since
these are pretty much self-explanatory.
You can manage activity across these two sections
pretty much the same way we handled in the previous section.
Here’s a simple hack for you in case you want to stop Google from tracking you while browsing YouTube videos.
One, do not sign into Google Chrome.
And two, go incognito!
How is Google Tracking Your Purchase History
Damn! Google knows that too?
Yes, they do.
Here are two ways to see the data.
When signed into chrome, head over to Google,
and search for “my purchases”.
You will see something like this:
Google pulls all this data from your Gmail account.
Alternatively, you can visit the
“purchases” section of your Google Account.
And here is one more place you can see
all your payment and subscription information.
Manage your credit card and/or payment methods,
purchases, and subscriptions here.
You will also see a section at the bottom
showing your upcoming and past reservations and flights.
How to stop this?
Deleting emails from Gmail might help in this regard!
What about Ads?
Google builds an ad profile of the user.
You can see yours here.
In my case, I have disabled this option.
In case, I enable it, here is what it will look like.
This will vary from person to person.
If it’s enabled in your case, you should see your age,
gender, and topics of interest.
You can either individually turn off the entries.
Or follow my example,
and use the toggle switch at the top of the page.
Will these stop ads?
It’s just a small measure to
stop Google from building your ad profile.
Is Google Tracking your Smartphones?
We talked about the Web aspects of Google.
Let’s dive into the mobile world, aka, Android.
Head over to Settings and click on Google.
You should see a screen like this:
Click on Ads, you will see this:
We have removed the advertising ID for privacy purposes.
Anyways, if you want to opt out of ads personalization,
just toggle that switch and you are all set.
Click on the Locations option on the screen will take you to a screen where you can turn off location tracking completely for your Android device.
A better alternative is to navigate to
Apps & notifications->Advanced-> App permissions.
Here, you can individually manage the
application access to your location, camera, contacts and more.
Did I forget Apple users?
Of course, not.
The Apple ecosystem has more controls than Android.
On your Apple device, open the Google app.
You will see three dots lower right.
Tap and choose “Privacy and Security”.
And you can turn off location tracking.
Just as we did in Android, you can individually select apps
and grant the desired permissions.
You can do that by navigating to
iOS Settings->Privacy and Location Services.
I sincerely hope that you will be able to make use of the information in this post.
Now that we have talked about the tips and tricks,
saying that Google is spying on us, is not unjust.
What do you opine?
Let me know your thoughts!