Wouldn’t it be great if there was some company out there that could “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful?”
Oh wait, that’s Google’s mission statement.
But just how universal and how accessible is that information? To answer, let’s all play a little game called, “Google Knows More About You than You Know About You.”
To get started, log into the dashboard of your primary Google account and check out your history. This page shouldn’t be too surprising. It’s common knowledge they track what you search. In fact, you can download an archive of your entire search history. I did this to see how far back it goes. And yeah, I was impressed—if not a little concerned. Google sent me a zip file with over four years’ worth of searches, all in plain text and broken down by date. I can literally tell you what I searched on this day, at this exact moment, four years ago.
What you may not know is that Google is not only saving your search history, they are also saving every voice command you’ve ever uttered as recorded audio. Under the Voice & Audio Activity tab, you are able to play every search you’ve ever done on any device via voice command. Which makes sense. The more you talk, the more your device gets to know you, ultimately improving end-user experience (and by collecting the data of and getting to know millions of users, ultimately improving the end-use experience for them too). But if you’ve ever wondered whether or not Google is listening in on your conversations, you wouldn’t be alone.
Then, of course, there’s every YouTube video you’ve ever watched and every YouTube search you have ever executed. And if your mobile device has location services turned on, you can see a day-by-day, hour-by-hour map of where you’ve been and the route you took to get there and back.
To summarize, Google knows what you’ve searched for, where you’ve been and what you’ve watched. And we’ve just barely scratched the surface.
Have you ever wondered how an advertisement suddenly pops up that is relevant to something you recently searched for or discussed in an email? As it turns out, Google is keeping a dossier on you and your activity. They know, for example, your gender, your age, things you’re interested in—such as sports teams and genres of music—and your location, all based on what you’ve searched and the websites you’ve visited, plus any additional information you’ve allowed through Google+ and Google Play apps.
They take this information and develop interest-based advertising, which enables advertisers to reach you based on your inferred interest. You can edit your interests, or choose to opt out, through your profile.
But what you can’t opt of is Google scanning your emails. That’s right; Google is scanning your incoming and outgoing emails. Per their terms of service as of April 2014:
“Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.”
What this means that even if you aren’t using a Google email address but you communicate with someone that is, your information is being scanned. And yes, it’s completely legal. Well, mostly legal. Google is not without its pending lawsuits.
To put this all in perspective: Google is legally harvesting, assembling and hosting information and essentially creating a digital version of you by every means necessary to carry out their objectives, which, if you’re to believe their mission statement, is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.
We again have to ask how is this universally useful and to whom? The “how”, of course, is money; the “whom” is advertisers, as mentioned.
Keep in mind that of the 74.5 billion US dollars Google made in 2015, 67.4 billion of it came from advertising revenue. Your information is valuable. And the more of it Google has, the more advertisers they attract.
What This Means And What You Should Do
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do. If you use Google products (and even if you don’t) your data is going to be stored and analyzed. While we’re all for the advancement of technology (I don’t personally think Google has bad intentions) it’s important to remember that if your information is being stored, it can and will be used against you should you ever end up in a legal dispute of any kind. Furthermore, should Google suffer a data breach, all of that information could end up in the wrong hands. How useful it would be depends on the creativity of the criminal.
With that in mind, we can’t forget that any information we put out there is permanent. So even if there are ways to opt out of some of Google’s services, you’re better off controlling the information you release by just not releasing as much. Every service you sign up for, every app you download, every link you click transfers information about you and is stored on a server somewhere.
The cloud, after all, is really just someone else’s computer.
As mentioned, Google is doing some really great things for the advancement of technology and making our lives better with some really cool gadgets and apps. For that, we love them. But their end game is revenue; revenue that is fueled by your personal data.