Education
29 Mar 2018

What Does Google Know About You?

What Information Is Being Collected About You...More Than You Realize!

A message from SANDSTONE’s Information System’s Manager, Shawn Fenemore

Equities have had a tough month, most particularly the Information Technology sector, due to their vulnerability to protectionism and fears of greater regulatory scrutiny.  Tougher times likely lie ahead for this sector as privacy issues are pushed front and center. 

With the volume of news lately about data collection and manipulation of that data by various companies, I thought there may be some who would like to know exactly what is known about you and what has been stored without you knowing. Google, Facebook, the apps on your phone, etc. all store pieces of information. Some of that information is contained within the application itself, while other data is made available to Windows/Google/etc. to make their other applications work (i.e. location services for Google Maps for looking up the closest Home Depot to your home). Instead of trying to explain how each interacts, I will provide a list of links you can use to see what has been collected about you.  

If you have a Google account (Gmail, Maps, YouTube, etc.), then everything you have done since opening that account has been recorded at Google. Your search and browsing history, YouTube videos you have watched...it is all tracked and saved within your Google profile. "But I delete my history from my browser all the time!" Yes, you do...but only on that device. Here is a list of services from Google that are collecting information about you that you probably didn't even know was being stored on Google servers. The Terms of Service agreement for your Google account stated as much when you created it but did you read it before you clicked past it? This is not meant to scare you, just make you aware of what information is available about you.  

Gmail

Email is supposed to be a secure service. Yes, there will always be ways to retrieve an email that you shouldn't see but did you know that even a person with basic computer skills can get EVERY email you have ever sent, received, deleted or marked as spam? Every email that has ever come into your Gmail account has been stored on Google servers as a text record. Remember that embarrassing email your friend sent with the picture of you at that party or the intimate message you sent to a partner. You deleted the messages and the photos from your inbox and then emptied the deleted items folder 5 years ago...or so you thought. That email content, the picture with it, the sender information, the time you opened it and deleted it is all available as a record on Google servers. If someone has your Google password, they would be able to access all of that without any hacking involved at all.  

But wait, there's more...  

Google Maps

Do you have location services enabled on your phone or tablet? Do you leave it turned on when you aren't using it? Then Google has a record of every place you have ever been with your phone in your pocket. They know how long you were there, whether you drove or walked and where you went afterwards.

Below is an edited map from my Google account showing where I was on July 13, 2013. The raw data shows what addresses I went to, how long I was there and how long it took to drive to the next location.


But wait, there's more...

Google Chrome

We all know that Chrome saves your browsing history and that you can delete it when you want to. This is partially true. When you delete your browsing history from Chrome on your phone or computer, you are only deleting it from that device, not from your Google account. Every search you have ever done and every website you have ever visited is stored in your profile on Google servers. That movie you downloaded from Pirate Bay 3 years ago, the one you thought no one would ever know about...it's there.  Unfortunately, I can't cover everything in this short note, there is just too much.

What I can do is show you how to find out what exactly Google knows about you. You can access all of this stored information through settings under your Google login, but it can be confusing where to go.Below are links you can use to see what information Google has on you in specific areas. For all of these, you need to be logged in to your google account to see the information.  

Chrome - your entire search history under Google when logged in to your Google account.  

Maps - every place you have ever been with your phone in your pocket.  

YouTube - every video you have watched or searched for on YouTube.  

AD Targeting - how they know what ads to show you at any given time.   

All the data - here you can request a download of every piece of information Google has on you.  Click the download link and they will prepare a download and send you an email when it is ready for you to download. Mine was over 5 GB's in size...that is over 1 million average size MSWord documents worth of data on just me.  

This is just skimming the surface of what can and is being collected about you. Every interaction you have with your phone, tablet or other electronic device uses information about that interaction to improve the next one by making searches faster or showing you only content you are interested in. In many cases, we gladly accept that this is data collection is happening. You may not care that this information is out there, but you should know what is there and how to find it.