What Does Google Know About Me?

There are ways to limit Google's access to your activities

The Server room of BalticServers

Wikimedia Commons / Fleshas

Google has raised concerns with privacy advocates for years over the amount of personal data it tracks, but just how much does Google know about you? The answer depends on the different types of Google services you use, but the sheer amount of data Google collects may surprise you. This information includes Google search data as well as information from services such as Google Calendar or Google Docs.

How Is My Google Data Gathered?

Understanding how Google gathers information about you is a great way to demonstrate just how much the company knows about you. The truth is that there isn't any cloak and dagger spying going on with Google. They simply store the information you give them while using their services. But they store almost everything, and they keep a historical record of it, so the data can go back years.

Let's take a look at Google services:

  • Google Search. Google keeps a history for every search you've done on the web while using Google's search engine. This alone is a lot of information, but when it gets even more comprehensive when paired with the following.
  • Google Chrome. While Chrome may very well be the best web browser available, it also gives Google a history of every website you've visited even if you didn't reach that website through search.
  • YouTube. Google tracks the searches you have done on YouTube and keeps a record of every video you've watched.
  • Google Maps. The use of Google Maps, especially when using the navigation functionality, will give Google access to your location and history.  
  • Waze. You might not know it, but Google actually owns the popular Google Maps alternative. Waze uses crowd-sourcing to help guide drivers, which means that the input Wazers provide about traffic goes straight to Google.
  • Android. This one may negate Google Maps and Waze simply because Google is also tracking your phone and doesn't need to rely on those other services. Android is also storing your text messages and your app usage, so it knows all about that Candy Crush addiction you suffered a few years back.
  • Google Apps. This list could go on for a while, so let's just sum it up with: and every other Google app or service. This includes Google Calendar, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Photos, Google Drive, etc.

While Google doesn't have quite the same access to an iPhone as it has to an Android device, it can and will still share information when using Google apps on an iPhone or iPad.

What Does Google Know About Me?

If you are feeling a bit, well, naked, it's understandable. We live in a world with a lot of wonders, but it is also a world without a lot of privacy. This data tracking is why you'll see advertisements for a product right after you searched for it. Google also uses the location information it gathers from Android smartphones to determine traffic conditions on the roads, which can give you a better idea of how your morning commute is shaping up. 

Cars on the highway transmitting signals

Google doesn't keep this information under lock and key. You can view your own data if you know where to look, and even download a packet of all Google data kept on you. 

How Do I Say: Stop Gathering Data About Me, Google!

An extreme way to limit or stop Google from gathering data about you is to simply stop using their products and services. You can switch from Android to iPhone, install the Firefox browser and begin using DuckDuckGo and/or WolframAlpha instead of Google Search.

But you don't need to be quite so dramatic if you simply want some basic limits on how much Google knows about you. In many cases, you can opt out of Google storing data about you.

A screenshot of Google's account activity controls

If you would rather be safe than sorry, you can install Firefox or use another browser for general web browsing and never have to sign in to Google using the browser. This will help reduce the amount of data Google can link back to your account. You can also install privacy extensions into the Firefox browser that can delete cookies, restrict Facebook tracking and other privacy features.