Of all the data breaches announced in the past eighteen months — and there have been many — the one that caused a big stir was Facebook. Perhaps it was due to the scope of the attack; more than one billion users may have been affected. Or maybe it’s how Facebook handled the revelation; they may have waited years to reveal the Cambridge Analytica breach. But, what likely caused the most alarm is exactly how much data Facebook stores about its users.
And while the public may be right to be shocked, Facebook is far from the only tech company to collect sensitive data about its users. While identity thieves and cybercriminals can learn a great deal about us via our social accounts, nothing compares to the amount of data the world’s most popular search engine stores on us.
Here’s what you need to know about Google’s data collection and how you can control it — at least partially.
Dylan Curran and a year’s worth of data points
In the wake of that Facebook revelation, the public has grown rightfully leery of the data companies collect about them. Dylan Curran, an information technology consultant, proved this in a tweet that has been shared more than 250,000 times in the past year.
Despite Curran’s tech background, he was shocked to learn exactly how much information Google was storing on users. His now-infamous tweet shows a map of Ireland, filled with data points, accompanied by text that reads:
“This is every place I have been in the last twelve months in Ireland, going in so far as the time of day I was in the location and how long it took me to get to that location from my previous one.”
That isn’t the only information the tech juggernaut was storing on Curran. In addition to tracking his location at all times and calculating how long it takes to travel between locations, Google also tracked his hobbies, interests, income, app data, deleted files, and even his possible weight. And what may be most concerning — these were the default settings.
What does Google know about YOU?
Curious about what Google knows about you, personally? Ben Popkin of NBC News is here to help. In his article, “Worried about what Facebook knows about you? Check out Google,” Popkin compiled a list of resources you may find helpful on your quest to protect your privacy.
After logging in to Google, you can explore the following:
- A map of where you've been
- In addition to viewing your location alongside dates and times, you can also delete your records and elect to switch off location tracking
- Your complete online search activity
- This includes your search history across all devices, which you can manage and delete
- Your advertising profile
- View and edit your advertising settings
- What apps you use
- View and edit third-party apps that have access to your Google account
- Your YouTube history
- View and edit your entire YouTube viewing/search history
- Download ALL data
- You can delete any data you don’t want a record of, or download it all in one giant file
Protecting your privacy from cybercriminals
The greatest step you can take to protect your data from falling into the hands of cybercriminals may be to limit to whom and what apps you’re giving access. That new app may be appealing, but what data is it collecting about you?
In addition to evaluating who you allow to access your data, you may also want to decide how much access you’re comfortable granting them. For example, you may love the fact that Google automatically tracks where your car is parked and will alert you to its location. But for that to work, the search engine needs to constantly track your location. Ask yourself, "Is this something I'm comfortable with?" If not, you might want to change your settings to what you are comfortable with.
At the end of the day — only you can decide the amount of privacy you’re willing to sacrifice for convenience.