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What data is Google collecting from you and why?

Cynthia Paez Bowman

Oct 19, 2021 — 5 min read

We offer some tips for you to stay as "incognito" as you'd like.

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Most tech companies collect data to create a better, more personalized experience for their customers and visitors. If you go to the terms and conditions page of nearly every website, you’ll find language explaining what information the company is collecting and for what purposes. However, most people don’t have the time or patience to read through all the legal fine print. 

Does Google collect your data? Yes. Google is no different about data collection than most other companies. Google may collect even more data than average. The company’s mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” That’s an ambitious mission.

Data collection can provide a better experience for all — when used responsibly, respecting visitor privacy. Data collection can help web designers determine what types of visitors are frequenting web pages and what they respond to best. That information can help designers improve the user experience and provide more of what visitors like. 

However, data collection about a user’s demographics and web habits can create privacy concerns. A company may have noble ideas about what it plans to do with harvested data, but the information can fall into the hands of hackers. In addition, big tech companies aren’t always transparent about how much data they collect (and the purpose), making it difficult to know exactly how safe your information is. This guide will help you answer “why does Google collect data” and what they may be doing with it. 

How does Google collect personal information? 

A detailed report on Google data collection found that Google could be collecting information about you continuously. 

Many users believe that clearing their caches, deleting cookies and eliminating browsing history can provide some control over their privacy. However, Google is collecting information that goes beyond Google Maps, Google searches, Chrome browser use and YouTube views. 

In most cases, you may not even notice it’s happening. Individuals often believe that data collection stops as long as they’re not using a Google service or app.

Google and its subsidiaries have gotten incredibly sophisticated and developed passive collection abilities. The report found that background data collection is now double the amount compared to data collection of active users engaging with Google and YouTube services. In addition, an Android device installed with a Chrome browser sends the device’s location data to Google 340 times in 24 hours. It’s far more than the amount of data collected from an iOS device, but it makes sense when you consider that Google owns Android.

Why does Google collect data?

Data collection isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Without Google’s advanced algorithms, you wouldn’t receive up-to-date search engine recommendations, know what’s trending online and more. Google essentially collects data to provide the ultimate curated, personalized information database to make searches more accurate and paid ads more relevant. 

When you think about it, the amount of data Google has is vast and absolutely overwhelming. The big four tech companies — Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook — have an estimated 1,200 petabytes stored among them. That’s 1.2 million terabytes of information. Although it may sound concerning, you have to give Google kudos for effectively collecting and organizing data. The company has made it possible for you to sort through a giant pile of hay to find the needle in the haystack you’re in search of, all in just a few seconds. 

How to get around internet data collection 

Suppose you’re wondering how you can protect yourself from the continuous breach of your privacy. In that case, there are some ways you can get around internet data collection — as well as commonly-used options that don’t provide the level of privacy you might expect. 

Does incognito mode work?

Browsing the web in incognito mode hides browsing history. Your activity won’t show if someone goes into your Chrome browser to view your history. However, everything you’re doing may still be visible to your internet service provider or the company’s pages you’re surfing. They can still collect data on what you’re doing, even if you’re in incognito mode. 

Using a VPN

A VPN could be a more robust solution to avoid internet data collection. As with incognito mode, data can still be collected. However, the VPN masks the individual’s identity. Services such as Express VPN could act as a proxy that allows you to surf the web anonymously. Your location and identity are hidden so you can safely explore. Data collection is still happening but the company doesn’t know who you are — and where you’re actually at. 

Updating your Google settings

Google provides ways to limit how much data you’re sharing. You can update your settings and delete stored data by accessing Google settings in your browser.

  • Go to “Google Account”
  • Click on “Data Personalization”
  • Enter the “Google Dashboard” to delete information you don’t wish to share. 

Besides deleting information, you can change your privacy settings for Chrome browser to limit what Google tracks. 

  • Open Chrome on your computer.
  • Click on the three dots in the upper right corner.
  • Choose “Settings.” 
  • Go to “Privacy and Security.”
  • Pick the settings you’d like to turn off. 

You’ll find options to delete browsing activities including cookies and history. You can set rules for how Chrome handles tracking. When you enter into “Security” there are more options you can adjust. You can enable “Do Not Track” to limit what companies do with your browsing data or choose “Safe Browsing” which monitors and warns you if Chrome believes a website isn’t safe. Updating your browser’s settings doesn’t entirely eliminate data collection but limits it.  

Bottom line on Google data collection

Google’s privacy policy is lengthy and is constantly being adapted. It’s hard to stay on top of when, how and why Google is collecting your data. You can take steps to protect your privacy and how much Google knows about you. Keep your Google privacy settings up to date and consider using a service such as ExpressVPN to keep your online activities anonymous. 

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Cynthia Paez Bowman

Written by:

Cynthia Paez Bowman

Cynthia Paez Bowman is a finance, real estate and international business journalist. Besides Bankrate.com, her work has been featured on Allconnect.com, Business Jet Traveler, MSN, CheatSheet.com, Freshome.com a… Read more

Robin Layton

Edited by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

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