You probably know how important online security is, but do you know how secure you are online? Google has a huge database for storing users’ information that you’re probably not aware of. Google stores this data publicly, and users can limit or delete this data on their own… do you know where this data is, and do you know what Google knows about you?
In this article, we will talk about how Google collects your data, how it uses your data, and what you can do to make sure your online privacy is safe and sound.
What information does Google store about me?
Everyone knows that Google is a helpful search engine that allows users to search and find just about anything online. Too few know that everything that you search on Google is collected and stored to shape your online persona… do you believe that? Right, Google uses it to sell your data and ad space to companies.
Here’s what they’re collecting, storing, and selling about you:
- Location history: We have all used the “Google Maps” app at least once. Although the app is quite helpful to help you get to your desired destination, if you have location tracking enabled on your phone, the app will log everywhere that you’ve been.
- Search activity: Everything that you search on Google is stored and recorded. Regardless of which device you use (your tablet, smartphone, or PC), if you’re logged into your Google account, your search records will be saved.
- YouTube activity: Given that YouTube is owned by Google, it comes as no surprise that your entire YouTube watch and search activity is being tracked and recorded.
- Gmail activity: Like what happened with Facebook, Google was also under fire for allegedly allowing privacy breaches on Gmail users. The privacy issues that arose were caused by Google allowing third-party users access to users’ emails. Furthermore, Google employees have access to your email to fix bugs and improve their algorithm.
- Voice commands: Yes, even your voice commands on Google are recorded. Once you tap the microphone icon on Google, your voice commands are being monitored and recorded. Google claims that it only records your voice commands to improve the functionality of the voice recognition software. Sure…
By now you must be a little bit scared about your online privacy. You must be asking yourself, “Why is Google storing all this information about me?” According to Google, there are valid reasons for doing so.
Why does Google store information about me?
Google says it has good reasons for the monitoring and recording of yourpersonal data, but it’s up to you to justify those reasons. Based on Google’s statements, I was able to deduce the following:
- Registration purposes: When you create your Google account, you need to leave personal information. This is understandable and pretty much standard with any online service.
- Google doesn’t sell your personal data: Google makes it very clear that it only uses your personal information to serve you relevant ads in Google products, partner websites, and mobile apps. Google explains how ads help fund its services, and it specifies that your personal data is not for sale.
This doesn’t mean that your data isn’t left out there for poachers, hackers, and other malicious users to steal. Furthermore, Google is being accused of tracking the location of Android users even if they have disabled location tracking or aren’t using their phone. Allegedly, Google is receiving information about the location of an Android phone user every four minutes. That is around 14 times per hour or roughly 340 times during a day. Now, I can neither confirm nor deny this statement, but for the sake of argument, I thought you might find the information useful.
"Let's just get that on the record: Google collects geolocation history & information even if 'location history' is turned off"
— Sam Burton (@TheSamBurton) March 13, 2019
Today, there are very few products used by Google which aren’t AI. When you do a little research, you’ll find that all of Google’s systems and products (like Google Maps, YouTube, and Google Assistant) are based on a machine learning principle which is ultimately transforming into artificial intelligence.
Targeted advertisements feel so creepy sometimes, its like some cold AI is watching what you google and tailors its marketing to you
— Ethan Kayser🦖 (@KayserEthan) June 26, 2018
Yes, that’s exactly what it is, Ethan. It’s also not that smart. Not yet, at least:
It's really funny to me when people are scared of AI considering how all of it goes into targeted marketing that gets it wrong 97% of the time. Like u google "what's dr pepper" and then for 9 months getting ads for Dr. Pepper seat covers for a ford f 1-50
— Christin (@hexprax) January 11, 2018
My point is that Google is using all of your personal data—search preferences, location history, the websites you visit—all of that just to serve you targeted ads. That is very clear. For instance, say you want to search for a VPN provider on Google. Google records your search query, shows you the top pages that respond to your search, and then keeps on shoveling ads from VPN providers wherever you go across the Google Display Network all over the Internet.
Of course, given that your data is out there and tracked by Google, it’s literally up for grabs by hackers. What can you do to make sure that your personal data is kept intact and that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands?
Can I delete my Google data?
In theory, yes. In practice, not quite. While you can hide and delete your browser history, you won’t be able to hide your traces from all the places you visited online. Below, I’ll explain how you can delete your personal data from your Google search, Gmail, YouTube, Voice, and Google Maps activity.
How to delete Google search data history
Here is how you can delete your Google data:
- Go to your Google account’s activity page.
- Click on the “Delete activity by” tab.
- Choose a time period.
- Click “Delete.”
Let me remind you that this method doesn’t effectively protect your personal data, as it is one of the weakest forms of online protection. The best way to make sure your personal data isn’t breachable during transport is to use a VPN. You can find more about VPNs and their abilities below.
How to delete YouTube search data history
Follow these steps to delete your YouTube watch and search history:
- On the left side of your screen, visit “History.”
- On the right menu bar, click on “Search History.”
- Choose “Clear all search history.”
- Follow the same steps to clear “Watch History.”
How to delete location history
This is how you can limit how much location data is stored on all your devices:
- Go to your “Google Account.”
- Go to “Data & Personalization.”
- Select “Activity Controls.”
- Go to “Location History.”
- Turn off location, and confirm changes.
- Delete your location history.
How to limit access to Gmail activity
It is unclear whether or not Google keeps track of your Gmail activity. For the sake of not being completely naïve, of course they do. The following will help you limit access to your Gmail account:
- Go to Google Accounts Settings.
- From all the authorized third-party apps with account access, pick only the ones you deem most secure.
How can I download my Google data?
The best way to keep your data to yourself without completely deleting it is to have it downloaded. Google allows users to archive their data, and you can do that by following these simple steps:
- Go to “Download your data” page.
- Choose the Google products you want to download.
- Select “Next.”
- Choose your archive’s “File Type.”
- Choose how your archive is delivered.
- Click “Create Archive.”
Archiving and downloading your Google data means that you’ll be creating an archive that will be only accessible to you.
What are the best ways to protect my data online?
Okay, so now you know that your online privacy is not very private. Your personal data is exposed; if you’re not careful enough, it could fall into the hands of malicious users. To prevent that from ever happening, you should take measures that will effectively protect your personal data online. Some of the best ways you can ensure that you’re properly protected while online is by equipping yourself with some of the following tools:
- VPNs: I can’t state the importance of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) enough. Explained briefly, a VPN acts as an intermediary between you and your online destination. The VPN receives your data, changes your IP address, encrypts your data, and sends the encrypted version of your data to the online destination. This means that if you use a VPN, the next time you visit a website with the VPN turned on, the website will only receive the encrypted data sent from the VPN, which has no association to you whatsoever. In other words, a VPN is your cloak of online invisibility.
- Proxies: A proxy is another digital tool to allow you to browse the web safely. However, it’s less secure than a VPN. Only the traffic from your web browser gets rerouted, and for devices they’re configured on, which limits your security. Also, proxies usually don’t vouch for your privacy or security, as most of them don’t usually use an encryption system. On the other hand, VPNs protect your online security by using impenetrable encryption methods like 256-bit encryption.
- Tor Browser: Tor is a program that protects its users by bouncing their connections around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers. However, Tor is not recommended for torrenting or live streaming, and the program doesn’t completely encrypt your data. This means that higher authorities can still monitor your data. On top of it all, Tor is known to slow down your browsing due to the numerous hops of your data.
Out of all the digital tools that we went through, a VPN is the most secure solution. A VPN protects your entire network, leaving no loopholes and potential ways for third-parties to monitor your online activity. We have thoroughly reviewed some of the best VPNs in the industry, and we can safely say that VPNs provide the best security among digital tools out there. Check out our list of top VPNs, and get the protection that you deserve.