Google is, for a lot of people, a company they love to hate. They are wary of the massive amount of data Google collects on them but they do, perforce, use Google for their search requirements. They use Gmail, calendar, docs, maps, Android, Chrome, YouTube and everything else. If someone told you 20 years ago you would willingly give a multi-billion dollar company troves of personal information so that they could sell advertisements that would be used to sell you stuff, you might not have believed them. But people do. Everyday.
Google’s products are designed to be useful. They are designed in a way that once they are used, they become almost impossible to do without. Google gives most of their products away for free. All you have to do is give them personal data about your self. Each piece of data, in itself, seems like it wouldn’t matter. But when it is added all together, it does matter, Google stores almost every piece of data you give it. See below for links to see what Google has stored about you. It may surprise you.
Google’s Most Valuable Product Is Us
For Google, almost all roads lead to advertising. That is how they make money. And they make a lot of money. No matter how you choose your Internet Service Provider, you probably use at least some Google services. Almost everything Google does, it does to keep you on their site to see the advertising they sell and to gather information so that they can give analytics to the companies they sell ads to. And they gather a lot of information. The reason consumers get their products for free is that the consumers are Google’s ultimate product. They sell us to their advertisers.
Google’s Marketing Next Conference 2017
Last month at Google’s Marketing Next conference, Google announced a beta for a new product they call Google Attribution. Per Google: “Google Attribution 360 unifies and analyzes all available data streams (with data-driven attribution, marketing mix modeling, and TV attribution) to create a highly accurate model of a marketer’s full efforts.”
Google is working on analyzing data from all marketing platforms to see how they add up to result in sales. It can include non-Google advertising and marketing platforms like email or even offline, like TV and print. You just add the data to your Google Ad Words account.
From Google “Store visit data is based on anonymous, aggregated statistics. AdWords creates modeled numbers by using current and past data on the number of people who click your ads and later visit your store. Store visit data can’t be tied to individual ad clicks or people. We use industry best practices to ensure the privacy of individual users.”
Do you see that? “data on the number of people who click your ads and later visit your store.” How do they know when someone who has clicked an ad visits a store? Because you were logged into your Google account when you searched and clicked the ad and Google is tracking you with GPS. What GPS tracker do they use? It is called a smart phone. To use the Android operating system you must have a Google account. With the Google account, they can track everything you do. They are also buying credit card information to add purchase data into the mix.
Due to this recent partnership with companies that supply credit card data, Google now has access to about 70% of all credit and debit card transactions in the US. They are tying these transactions to clicks on Google advertising and using this data to prove that their advertising works.
Google Cares About Your Privacy
Google does say “our privacy techniques ensure that store visit data can’t be tied to individual people.” And we know this to be true because what multi-national billion dollar corporation would ever do anything to violate people’s privacy for profit?
Things Google Knows:
- When and what you searched for
- What you clicked on
- What site you were on before you searched
- What site you went to after you searched
- What other searches you did
- When and where you shopped
- Probably what you bought
If you have Google Home, Google’s AI Assistant powered speaker and microphone, Google will know what smart devices you have in your home and a lot of the actions you do in your home.
Google uses, by their own bragging, machine learning to better market to you. Think of how the following data could be used
- Google Calendar – Google would know where you went and where you were planning to be. Verified against the GPS in your phone.
- Searches – Every thing you have searched for and what you have clicked on.
- Google Analytics – If you are logged in to your Google account and visit a website with Google Analytics on it, Google knows.
- GPS tracking - Since your phone has GPS, Google could know everywhere you have been with your android phone.
- G mail – Google knows everyone you have emailed and who has emailed you, the subject line, probably what you have said and any attachments sent. They will know all the email lists you are on and probably when you unsubscribe.
- Google Drive/Docs – Anything you have written with and/or stored on Google Drive has probably been scanned and indexed
- Contacts – Everyone in your Google/Gmail/Android phone contact list
- Google Maps/Earth – Could have every place you have searched for directions to as well as where you were when you accessed Google Maps/Earth.
- Photos – Every photo stored on a Google drive or you have taken with your Android phone. Using the GPS on your phone it knows where the photo was taken. With new facial recognition software, Google can probably recognize who the pictures are of.
More Than One Way To Track A Cat
There are probably other ways that Google can track you even if you are not logged in to your Google account. There are techniques called fingerprinting, where the advertiser in effect takes a picture of your browser settings and other things and can recognize you by the settings and such of your computer, ie, which programs, fonts, browsers, etc, are installed.
When The Light Bulb Turns On
With smart TVs, smart phones, smart cars, smart kitchen appliances, and even smart light bulbs, there will be a time, and it may have already arrived, when if you want to make sure you are not being monitored and tracked, you will need to go into a room with no electronics and lit with candles. Just turning your phone off probably won’t matter. There have already been instances of smart TVs recording conversations in people’s living rooms without the owner’s knowledge or authorization.
Adding It All Up
Google can correlate all of the clicks on all of the ads, when you searched for the location, what website you last went to before you clicked on the ad, what video you saw, how many times you visited the store, how many times you searched, how many websites you checked. They can know pretty much all of your activity around that purchase.
Add In Machine Learning
With the artificial intelligence and machine learning, Google has been focusing on Google may be able to find out that you are more likely to buy a pair of shoes if you had just eaten at an Indian restaurant than if you ate sushi. That is how in depth machine learning could get. It can know if you are more likely to buy after talking to your mother or your sister. And knowing that, it could make a call to your mother. Well, maybe not. Yet.
Millions and Millions of Little Spies
From Google “AdWords display ads appear on over two million websites and in over 650,000 apps, so your ad can show up wherever your audience is.”
The ramifications of that are that there are two million websites and 650,000 apps that are reporting back to Google your behaviors. Now, out of billions of users, it might seem like they aren’t really paying attention to you and your particular behaviors. They wouldn’t have time. But they don’t have to have an employee looking at your data. They have a computer to do that. They have AI, artificial intelligence, to do that for them.
Look At All The Pretty Apps
Google’s thrust, like Facebook, is to keep you on their sites, on sites with their ads and apps for as long as they can. The longer you stay on their sites the more ads you are exposed to. Google also wants to shepherd as many of your life events as they can, gaining data from each. That is why they provide so many free services like the Google Calendar, Google Forms, Maps, Gmail, search etc. They never miss an opportunity to gather more information about you, your life and activities. And as a bonus, they might be able to show you another advertisement.
Google Yawns at Chrome Recording You
Recently an AOL web developer from Israel discovered that the Google Chrome browser has a bug that may let websites record you without your knowledge, ie, without the red dot that lets someone know they are being recorded turning on. When he reported it to Google they said that it wasn’t “really a security vulnerability,” but they might get around to fixing it at some point. It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Google is a bit cavalier with your privacy. They have made billions of dollars exploiting it themselves.
“We Know Where You’ve Been”
“We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.” - Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Alphabet, the parent company of Google.
If you have an android phone and feel like doing a fun and educational experiment to see how much Google does track about you go here: https://www.google.com/maps/timeline or https://maps.google.com/locationhistory/b/0 to see if you are currently being tracked. Hopefully, you have location tracking turned off on your phone and you won’t see any thing. If it is turned on you will see everywhere you have taken your phone. If it was turned on you might want to turn it off. Go to your phone’s Google settings and turn off location tracking. Just tap on Google settings and right under services, it will say location. Tap that and there will be a little switch. Make sure it says “off.”
If you had it turned off and you feel like seeing how it works, go to your phone’s Google settings and turn “on” location tracking, then after a few days go back to one of those links above to see what Google saw. Google will have most locations you stopped at marked. If you took pictures on your phone it will place them at that location. It knows where you went, if you were walking or driving, plus much more. Google has the ability to know who else was at that location while you were there.
For Quality Purposes Your Life May Be Monitored and Recorded
If you use any voice commands for your phone, go to https://history.google.com/history/audio while you are logged in to your Google account to see what Google has recorded. Google may have even transcribed what was said. Even if you have never used Google voice command, Google probably does have some random recordings of things that have been said around your phone, check it out.
Who Has Access To Your Google Account?
Most of what Google tracks and stores about you is only accessible by you (and Google). Or the government, if they get a subpoena. Or anyone who might be able to hack into your Google account. This is why it is pretty important to keep your Google account secure. This includes your phone; because when you have an Android phone, you have a Google account and your phone is probably logged in. If someone has access to your phone they have access to your Google account which has a lot of data stored about you and what you do.
The Price You Pay To Use Google
The point is, where Google is concerned, everything you say, do or search for, may be used to market to you. Like it or not, giving away your personal information is the price you pay for using any Google service. That is why Google creates so many nifty apps and useful services, so you will be willing to give them data. And data to them means money.
As far as your right to privacy in the age of the Internet, Google’s Eric Schmidt has said, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
What Can You Do?
There are some things you can do to protect your information. Check out this article for fun ways to protect your information. You can also ask your representative to enact privacy rules that protect you, not only from Internet Service Providers, but also web content creators like Facebook and Google.
- By Wayne Porter