How much does Google really know about you? Too much. Google might just know you better than anyone.
by John Mason for The Best VPN
Thanks to the data the tech giant collects in order to sell ads, Google has a wealth of information on you — from what you look like to where you live and where you’ve traveled. The corporation may even be able to guess your favorite food.
Just how does Google know all of this? Jump to our infographic for a quick overview of everything Google knows about you, or check out our full guide by clicking on the icons below.
Although “Google it” has officially entered the cultural lexicon, the mega-corporation is much more than a search engine. It’s through its apps, internet-related services, acquired companies and more that the technology company collects data on you. Below, we’ve broken down the most common app, product or service Google uses to track data, as well as an overview of the specific data collected.
|Google app, product or service||Data colllected|
|Google Chrome||Browser history, websites visited|
|Google Search||Queries searched|
|Gmail||Contacts, emails sent, emails received, email content/conversations|
|Ads||Ads clicked on, topics interested in|
|Google Photos||People and places tagged|
|Google Fit||Fitness level and goals|
|Google Maps||Locations visited, places searched, methods of transportation, dates of tavel|
|Google Calendar||Upcoming plans and appointments|
|Google Hangouts||Contacts, conversations|
|YouTube||Videos watched, liked and uploaded|
|Google News||News sites visited, stories clicked on|
|Google Books||Books read and searched|
|Google Shopping||Products searched and clicked on|
|Waze||Directions and places searched, locations visited|
From what you’ve searched online and the websites you’ve visited to who your contacts are and what you talk about, Google knows a lot about you. The company is then able to take this information and make informed decisions regarding what you might be interested in, which they show you in the form of ads.
Google’s apps give the company a wealth of information on you, from the personal details that make up who you are to your interests, your past travels and your future goals.
Who You Are
From facial recognition to audio recordings and intuitive search, Google is able to create a comprehensive — and unnervingly correct — profile about what makes you, you.
Thanks to facial recognition in Google Photos, the search engine probably has a pretty good idea of what you look like. In fact, you can create a “label” within Google Photos that’s essentially a tag for each person in your images, and Google is able to separate out that person from every photo you upload — even if the photo only includes a partial picture or is obscured.
If you’ve ever used voice commands with Google Home, an Android device, or any other Google product or device, the site has a log of it. In fact, not only can you view your past voice commands in the “Voice and Audio” section of Google’s My Activity section, you can hear them as well. The site keeps a full history of your audio commands, including voice recordings.
Your religious/political beliefs
Have you searched Google for how to donate to a political campaign? Visited a candidate’s website? Watched a sermon on YouTube? Google uses all of this information to build a comprehensive profile that covers everything from whether you’re more religious or spiritual to who you’re probably voting for in the next election.
Your health status
If you use Google Fit, the company probably has a pretty good overview of your health, from how active you are to the calories you burn a day to your fitness goals. But even if you don’t use this Google app, the site probably has a pretty good understanding of the state of your immune system — or at least how you view it — from your Google searches. In fact, compiling search engine data and cross-referencing it against patterns may even allow Google to tell if you’re getting sick or dealing with a medical issue.
Your personal details
Searched Google for the best lactose-free milk? For what to expect when you’re expecting? For how to learn Spanish fast? Everything you search is tracked by Google, which can be used to better understand personal details about your life, from whether you have dietary restrictions to what languages you speak.
Everywhere You’ve Ever Been
Location tracking is one of the areas Google excels in — thanks to advanced location recognition technology, the company knows everything from where you went on vacation two summers ago to what restaurant you eat at most often.
Your home and office
Android phones, which run off of Google’s services, and Pixel, Google’s own phone, track and record your location through several means, including Wi-Fi, GPS and cellular networks. This means that the phone knows everywhere you are, every day, and how long you’re there for.
Google is able to interpret that data and draw conclusions from it — for example, where you live is probably where your phone is for the majority of nights and weekends. In fact, it may only take Google Now three days to determine where you live. For those on Apple devices or other operating systems, Google Maps works in a similar way.
Places you visit
In addition to collecting information about where you live and work, Google is able to track the other places you visit most often. Do you have a favorite coffee shop? A running route? A daycare center you use every weekday? Google probably knows about it.
Places you’ve traveled
Google doesn’t just know the ins and outs of your everyday life. The tech company knows where you’ve traveled too, be it a weekend getaway or a month-long trip to a different country.
Not only can Google track the places you’ve traveled to, it can see what you did while you were there. If you visited a museum in Paris or went line-dancing in Texas, Google knows — down to the exact time you arrived, how long you stayed, and how long it took you to get from one destination to another. The location tracking can even tell the method of transportation you used, like if you walked or took a train.
Additionally, Google’s acquisition of Waze means the site can collect data on where you’ve been even if you’re not connected to Maps or on a Google device.
Who Your Friends Are
Between your contacts and conversations in Gmail and Hangouts and the appointments you make in Google Calendar, the company knows everything from who you’re talking with to when and where you’re seeing them.
Who you talk to
If you use Gmail for your personal or work email, Google has a list of all your contacts, including who you talk to the most: navigate to Google’s “Frequently contacted” section to see which of your Gmail contacts you spend the most time conversing with (and to check if Google’s assessment of who you like the most aligns with your own). Android and Pixel users also give Google access to their phone contacts and text messages.
Where you meet
Meeting a friend for coffee later? If it’s on your Google Calendar, the company knows about it — and, thanks to location tracking, can map your trip from your house to the coffee shop and back. If you take a picture with your friend at the shop and upload it to Google Photos, Google can use facial recognition to add them to their own specific photo album. You can also tag the location the photo was taken as well.
If, years later, you’re trying to remember who you grabbed coffee with that day, Google can help you remember.
What you talk about
Does Google keep track of what you talk about over Gmail? It’s an issue up for debate — the company announced in 2017 that they would stop reading emails for the purposes of creating targeted advertisements. Whether they’ve actually stopped reading them altogether is another matter.
What You Like and Dislike
Google is in the business of knowing what you’re into — it’s how the search engine creates and sells such a personalized advertising experience. From your favorite movie genre to your favorite type of food, Google knows your preferences.
Food, books and movies
Google can use search engine data, like recipes you’ve researched or book titles you’ve searched for, to form an idea of what you like and dislike. Certain apps like Google Books, which keeps tracks of the books you’ve searched and read, deepen this knowledge. Additionally, Google owns YouTube, which means they know which movie trailers you’ve been seeking out.
Google uses this information, as well as the websites you’ve visited and the ads you’ve clicked on, to create a profile of the subjects they think you’re interested in. You can see a full list of who they think you are — down to what shows you watch and what hobbies you pursue in your free time — in their ads dashboard.
Where you shop and what you buy
If you’ve ever used Google Shopping to compare the prices of online vendors, Google knows about it. They also know what products you’ve searched and clicked on through Google Search and can track your website visits and what products you’ve viewed on retailer websites through Google Chrome.
Your Future Plans
Google’s knowledge isn’t limited to what you’ve done in the past or are doing in the present. The company can also use data from their applications and search engine to make predictions about what you’ll be doing in the future.
What you’re interested in buying, seeing or eating
Interested in seeing a new movie? Checking out a new restaurant or taking a weekend trip to a new city? If you’ve used Google Search to look up the movie times, make an online reservation or scout out the best tourist activity, Google knows.
Upcoming trips and reservations
Have you searched restaurants to eat at and shows to go to in the city you’re visiting? Have you created an itinerary in Google Calendar? Google can collect that data in order to assess your upcoming trips. Google also scans your emails to see what flights you have coming up and can automatically add restaurant reservations to your schedule based on confirmations that have been sent to Gmail.
Future life plans
Have you been searching about homeownership? About when the best age to have children is? About tips for travelling to China? Google uses this information to understand more about you and what you want in the future, to better tailor online advertisements to your needs.
Your Online Life
At its most basic, Google is a search engine and internet services company. So, it’s no surprise that in addition to knowing a wealth of your personal details, the site also knows everything there is to know about what you do online.
Websites you’ve visited
Google keeps a comprehensive list of every site you’ve visited on Chrome, from any device. The site also keeps a running tab of every search you’ve run, every ad you’ve clicked on and every YouTube video you’ve watched.
Your browsing habits
From how many sites you have bookmarked to how many passwords Chrome auto-fills, Google has a comprehensive understanding of your browser habits, including:
- Your apps from the Chrome Web Store and the Google Play Store
- Your extensions from the Chrome Web Store
- The browser settings you’ve changed in Chrome
- Email addresses, addresses and phone numbers you’ve set to autofill in Chrome
- All the website addresses you’ve ever entered in the address bar
- The pages you have bookmarked in Chrome
- All the passwords you’ve asked Chrome to save for you
- A list of sites you’ve told Chrome not to save passwords for
- All the Chrome tabs that are open across your devices
- The number of Gmail conversations you’ve had
- How many Google searches you’ve made this month
If you’re unnerved by the amount of information Google has on you, there are several steps you can take to get around the company’s relentless tracking.
- Use a VPN
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a secure option to keep Google from tracking you while you’re online. Although virtual private networks can’t completely keep the company from accessing your data, they do hide your IP address, encrypt your internet traffic and make your browsing history private, keeping your online actions much more secure.
- Use private browsing
Use Google’s Incognito Mode to ensure that the pages you access won’t show up in your browsing history or search history. Be aware, however, that other websites can still collect and share information about you, even when you’re using private browsing.
- Adjust your privacy settings
Check out Google’s Activity Controls to change what data is stored about you and visit your Activity Page to delete stored history and activity.
- Turn off location reporting
In Google Maps — as well as in your Android and Pixel device settings, if you use those products — disable location reporting to keep Google from tracking where you are and where you go. If you use Google Maps or Waze for directions, though, the company can still collect location data on you when you’re using those apps.
- Use a different browser and search engine
To stop Google from tracking your searches and website visits, you can use another browser and search engine, like Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Bing. However, this will only stop Google from tracking you — Microsoft (or whatever company owns the browser you switch to) will get your data instead.
- Delete your Google accounts
To truly stop the tech giant from tracking you, you’ll need to take drastic measures — namely, disavowing the use of any of the company’s products. That means deleting any apps linked to the company, including Gmail, Google Drive and any Android devices, and moving to a different browser and search engine.
Google has made life a lot simpler in many ways. Google Search has made answers just a click away. Google Maps has made directions easy to find and understand. Google Drive has made working across multiple platforms seamless.
This convenience comes with a price: privacy. If you’re concerned about how Google is tracking you — and what they’re doing with the data — follow the steps above to keep yourself safe, and visit Google’s Privacy Site for a more comprehensive overview of what data Google is tracking and how they use it.