Google’s data collection, how it’s used, and how to manage it

Most of us use Google to search for everything from shoes to diseases. We most often do so without thinking about what Google learns from our searches, and how that information is used.

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Google is the world’s most popular search engine, so it has access to a large majority of internet users and their information. They have an app for basically everything, from email to photos, powerpoints to translations. They store information from every email you send on Gmail, every location you visit on Google Maps, and every video you watch on YouTube (yes, they own YouTube). IP address tracking and cookies collect information on your location data and internet browsing habits. While there isn’t a Google employee monitoring your every move, all searches are saved by Google and are used by them.

What do they do with your information? 

Google states that they do not sell your information to third parties. However, they do use your information to personalize your search results. While third parties don’t know your specific identity, they are given information on how to target ads to you. You may notice you get ads specifically targeted towards subjects you have Googled recently.

Location tracking is also used to recommend stores and restaurants near you. This personalization is used to commodify your internet experience and sell you things.

How to manage your privacy

There is an app called Google Takeout that can download and show you all of the information Google has on you. Knowing this information will let you know whether you need to be worried about how much Google knows about you and your internet habits.

Using ‘incognito’ mode when Googling also stops web history from being saved on your computer after your internet session ends.

You can also delete the previous activity on your Google account in your settings. On your Google account, select “Data and Privacy” on the left-hand menu. Then, under “History Settings,” select “My Activity;” then you can delete your activity based on time ranges like from the last day or all time. Under “Activity Controls” you can scroll to the bottom of the page and turn off Personalized Ads so your information isn’t being used to target ads towards you. Turning off “Web and App Activity” stops Google from harnessing your purchasing and location information.

Web and App Activity is their most useful tool when it comes to collecting personal information, so turning it off will help protect your information, but it also makes the user experience less curated. If you want to prioritize things that Google believes you care about, keeping the setting on might be worthwhile. Based on the information Google knows about you, make a decision about how you want to utilize Google’s privacy settings and shape your internet experience for yourself rather than letting algorithms do it for you.

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