Google is the undisputed leader in the tech giants' race to collect user data, thanks to the huge amount of services, devices and an important part of the digital advertising business (37% for 22% of Facebook). It probably knows everything you've ever typed in your browser's search bar and any YouTube video you've ever watched.
But that is just the beginning. It can also know where you have been, what you have bought and with whom you communicate.
What Google collects:
The terms you are looking for.
The videos that you view.
Voice and audio information when using audio functions.
People you communicate with or share content with.
Activity on third party sites and apps that use Google services.
The ads and content you view on Google sites, as well as interactions with that content.
Chrome browsing history that you've synced with your Google Account.
Location data, which Google can collect directly from GPS data or derive from other sensors and data, including IP addresses, Wi-Fi routers in the vicinity and Bluetooth beacons.
What Google does not collect:
Google Docs data from business customers using the paid enterprise version.
Internet traffic from its Google Wi-Fi home routers.
The company used the content of emails in Gmail to choose ads to display, but the company does not do that anymore because the other data is more efficient.
The big picture: Google is not just the search service of the same name. It also receives a lot of data from its Chrome browser, as well as from YouTube, devices with its Android operating system, Google Assistant and Google Maps, along with hardware products such as Nest and Google Home.
Even those who are not actively using Google services are likely to still have a fair amount of information on their servers. It is a huge player in digital ads, with commonly used tools for displaying advertisements and providing analyzes.
Between the lines: A study by Douglas Schmidt of Vanderbilt University last year revealed that Google and Chrome are sending plenty of data to Google, even without user action, including location data (assuming that a user has chosen not to share such information). And almost half of the data comes from the interaction of people with Google's services for advertisers, in contrast to consumers who immediately opt for a Google service.
Google challenged a number of points of the study and highlighted some new privacy tools, but Schmidt says his main findings remain the same.
"You can run around with a few buttons and make you feel better", Schmidt tells Axios. "I do not think much has changed."
Location data throws up some of the most troublesome issues for Google users.
If Google keeps track of your location, it can help you discover where you work and live, predict when to leave the house and even tell you when you need an umbrella.
At the same time, such data gives Google a picture of our lives that is so incredibly detailed that it will make many people uncomfortable.
That picture will only get bigger as Google expands the range of hardware products, from Nest cameras & # 39; s and thermostats to Google Home Hub and Pixel, which designate more cameras & microphones in your life.
In addition to everything Google gathers through its services, Google Search wants to be a repository for all the information in the world. That means that there is a mountain of information available on Google, because someone somewhere in the world has put it online.
If embarrassing photos from your high school yearbook or information about your DUI are posted online, Google helps people find it. (An exception is for those in Europe, where the right to be forgotten asks people to remove certain information.)
There is a reasonable amount you can do to at least limit what Google knows about you.
You can use another search engine such as Microsoft's Bing or the even more privacy-oriented Duck Duck Go.
Just choosing an iPhone does not take you out of Google's grasp. Google pays Apple billions of dollars every year as the default search engine on the iPhone, iPad and Mac. You can change that standard, but relatively few people do that.
At the front of the browser you can choose to use Firefox or Safari, or use Chrome from Google in Private Browsing mode, or choose something like the privacy-oriented Brave.
You can choose not to stay logged in to your Google Account when using its services. Apart from simply not using Google products, this is probably the biggest step you can take to hide yourself from the company – but this means that you have to log in every time you want to check a Gmail account, for example. -mail want to read Google Doc.
And you can go here to see what Google knows about you. Make sure you are logged in (and check all your accounts if you have more than one).
You can also clear your Google history, something that Facebook users have promised, but still have to deliver. If you clean up your history, Google will not use this information to personalize your Google experience. Removing is another issue.
Whatever steps you take, it can be incredibly difficult to block Google completely, even if you want to, as Gizmodo & # 39; s discovered Kashmir Hill, because Google's services drive so many others. If you really want to disable Google, you also need to specify Uber, Lyft and Spotify.
What's next: Nowadays, Google uses its huge amount of data mainly to direct ads to us. Increasingly, it will apply the same source to power and optimize the artificial intelligence-based services that it and its rivals are building.