Almost everyone has a Google account, it is used to buy programs, for the sake of the mailbox and other services. But few people think about how much Google collects information – the history of purchases and searches, our personal data, preferences and even travel history. Some people don’t pay much attention to this, but there are also those who don’t like such an awareness of Google about their purely private life. We won’t suggest that you give up your account and go live in the woods, but we will tell you how to minimize the amount of information being collected about us in this article.
Under the hood
So what exactly does Google know about you? It’s easy to find out, just go to “My Activity” in your account settings. There you’ll see a timeline of sites you’ve visited, searches you’ve made, YouTube videos you’ve watched, and even Android apps you’ve launched. During the day, the author accumulated more than 300 such actions, each of which was logged and described in detail.
Google has another similar service, but it concerns geolocation. Authorized, it is possible to see the history of his movements around the world. Such data the company keeps for as long as you want, and in our case the earliest records date back to 2013. By the way, the easiest way to disable the location history is to click the “Disable History” button at the bottom of the map. Learn more how disable google location history…
How, and most importantly, why does Google collect such detailed information about you? For most web-services is an axiom: if you do not pay for the service, you yourself act as a commodity. “Sell” users can be different ways, but in the case of Google all very banal – the company gets money for the placement of targeted ads that will be shown to you depending on your preferences, tastes and habits. Moreover, the more accurate information Google collects about you, the more likely such advertising will work, and the more the company will be able to earn.
Information about you comes to the company in different ways. The vast majority of the information will come from your Android device and Chrome browser (and you carefully read the license agreements when you first start up your smartphone and install the browser, right?), but even if you don’t use those products, there are many other ways to get more information about you. One of the most common is cookies, which are commonly used for session management and authorization on web resources. If you open a page of any of Google’s services at least once, a cookie will be stored on your computer, which will allow the company to understand that all of your actions on any of its services were carried out exactly from your PC. This will work, at least until you clear the cookie in your browser. Using incognito mode or a special browser will not help get rid of surveillance either: when you access any website, the browser passes it information about its engine, the operating system of the device, the window resolution and other system information. This information together makes up a sort of “fingerprint,” which is unique enough to relatively accurately identify a single user.
These are not all the ways to track users: there are other, more subtle ones. Becoming completely anonymous online and hiding from the all-seeing eye of Google is no easy task, but you can quite easily minimize the amount of tracking you do.
Convenience or privacy?
The world is not all black and white, and the collection of your personal data by large companies is not pure evil. Information about people allows Google to constantly improve its services, not only in general, for all users, but also specifically for you. More about this company explains on the page “Privacy”. For example, by transmitting data about the device’s location and speed while navigating, Google can more accurately estimate traffic congestion. Transmitting information about search queries can make the search engine smarter and offer more relevant options for autocompletion. And information about YouTube activity allows the company to make more accurate recommendations for you.
Google also says about protection of your data: according to the company, all transmitted information is reliably encrypted and kept safe, without access to it by unauthorized persons. There is no reason not to trust this as any major leak of users’ personal data would be a serious blow to the corporation’s business.
There is a third side to Google’s awareness of your life. Despite the company’s principles that governments and intelligence agencies of any country cannot gain free access to any user’s data, the company is sometimes powerless in the face of court decisions and official requests from law enforcement agencies. For example, in the first half of 2016, the Russian government sent 237 requests to Google to disclose user data. Despite the fact that only seven percent of them were satisfied by the company, the dynamics of the number of such requests is growing. Of course, other major companies, such as Facebook and Microsoft, receive (and satisfy) similar requests.
Moderate Big Brother’s appetite
Even if you haven’t fully decided whether or not you should be afraid of being tracked, it is worth checking your privacy settings. Of course, Google isn’t the least bit interested in losing the information you provide, so all the checkboxes and buttons to turn off snooping are buried deep within a variety of account settings menus.
Turn off your activity history
Start with the page unambiguously titled “Activity Tracking.” Here you can turn off app activity and web search history, YouTube searches, voice search, and location history. If you try to disable any of these items, Google will try to persuade you not to do it – all you have to do is endure the character and with a steady hand press the “Disable” button.
Configure privacy settings
Once you’ve dealt with the previous settings, it’s worth running the “Check Privacy Settings” wizard. After following a few steps, you can choose which information about you will be publicly available when you search the Internet, and which will not. For example, you can set your YouTube activity to be visible to other users, or you can disable the ability for your Google account to be searched by a linked phone number.
Turn off targeting ads
Well, now it’s time to move on to the holy of holies – Google’s advertising settings. By clicking on the link, you’ll see what topics you’re being shown ads on. The list is compiled automatically based on your actions in your Google account, but to make the ads more relevant, you can edit it by removing unwanted topics and adding new ones. But, if you don’t want your personal information to be used for ad matching, you can turn off personalization altogether. The ads won’t go anywhere, of course, just be based only on your location. Interestingly, Google’s assessment of your age and interests is not always accurate – we found this out by conducting a small survey. Regularly watching old Soviet movies and Ludmila Zykina’s performances on YouTube greatly increases your virtual age.
Scroll to the bottom of the page and you’ll find the “Set up ads that are visible after you log out of your account” button. Clicking on it will open a page with identical settings, but they will refer to special cases, including working in incognito mode, third-party sites, and using Google services without authorization. Google tracks you even if you don’t use Google’s services at all, by visiting one of the more than two million sites that show Google ads.
Is that all?
As you might have guessed by now, no. But it all depends on what your goal is. If you don’t mind personalized advertising, and you just don’t want to reveal too much information about yourself, the instructions above are useful. But if you want more anonymity, you have to create a new Google account or give it up altogether, and start using special means of protection. We are talking about VPN-services, anonymizers and specialized browsers like Tor. One of the interesting projects is offered by the company with the speaking name Disconnected – its application for Android OS allows you to search the Internet without fear of being tracked. In addition, the application is able to analyze sites for built-in modules that can be used to analyze your preferences. However, to use the program more conveniently with any browsers on your smartphone, you will have to pay for the service or buy a subscription.
In today’s Internet to remain anonymous is increasingly difficult: almost every site, itself or through intermediaries, is trying to collect about you as much information as possible. Fortunately, Google quite officially provides a number of tools that you can use to regulate the amount of information you share – we’ve listed just a few of them. Well, complete anonymity has already become the prerogative of people who are seriously versed in network security. The days when nobody on the net knew you were a cat are gone.