"By understanding your preferences we can ensure that we give you the search results that you’re looking for, and by analysing the search logs of millions of users in aggregate, we can continually improve our search algorithm, develop new features, keep our systems secure and even predict the next flu outbreak," says the search giant on it's internet safety tips and advice website, Good to Know.
From my engagement with the search engine and their various services, i.e. Gmail, YouTube, Google Drive, Google Hangouts and Google Maps, it became apparent that they are searching me as much as I am searching them.
Google describes me as a man between the ages of 26 and 32 that enjoys downloading pirated movies and series, travelling, watching YouTube clips and composing music. English is my primary language and I own both a MacBook and an Acer Presario, the latter of which I used last at 11:54 p.m. from Cape Town, South Africa. I have accumulated an astounding 105 504 e-mails to date and I apparently prefer Safari as my browser of choice. Quite apt.
Google tracks your past Internet searches on all your Google Account registered devices. They use this data to tailor your future search results as well as for marketing purposes.
Google can also track your search history through tracking cookies and data collected from AdSense and Analytics. This information can tell Google which sites you frequent, the order in which you visit them and even the length of time spent on the site.
The world’s most popular video site does a whole lot more than just keeping you entertained for hours on end.
Google also keeps track of your viewing history, subscriptions, and searches that allow Google to shape their understanding of who you are.
Millions of people willingly share their information on social media.
Your date of birth, occupation, location and interests are fair game on Facebook and Google+. This data is once again used to develop an even broader understanding of your digital identity.
These platforms take it one step further by identifying your contacts, feelings, messages and photographs that you post.
Think your Gmail’s off-limits? Think again.
Google uses even your very private e-mails for data collection. The company mines through your inbox for data that may or may not indicate your preferences.
They can take it one step further by comparing Gmail data with other publicly available information to further shape your digital identity.
The company’s terms of service provide Google the right to “use, host, reproduce, modify or create derivative works.” However, these terms also specifically state that users “retain ownership of any intellectual property rights.”
So roughly put, Google can’t outright steal your material, but they can find a legal means to read the content in your Google Drive should the “need arise”.
Every time you use Google Maps to find the quickest route to your destination you provide them with the tools necessary to build an efficient profile of you.
Your location, habits, and schedule can all be calculated from data mined from this app.
Simply put, if your device has a Google account your Internet trail can be tracked.
Turning on location data when setting up your new device or installing new apps gives Google information pertaining to your location. The “check in” option available on most social media platforms does exactly this.
Google knows your habits and can indicate where you live, work and party.
Google’s interest in your data is always advertisement of course, and none of this digital invasion of privacy is ever meant to be underhanded.
But what can you do if you want to prevent Google from tracking you?
There’s quite a bit you can do to ensure your browsing history with online advertisers, stays untracked. Check out the opt-out features or the free disconnect add-on for Chrome, Explorer or Firefox.
You can of course also use an alternative Internet search engine, like DuckDuckGo, that doesn’t actually track you.