Data collection and sharing has become a necessary evil when it comes to the use of technology in our times. Is it nearly impossible for most of the appliances and tech support that we use to be able to work for us and with us without collecting our data in one form or another?
The question then becomes how much data are they collecting, how are they storing or sharing it and at what point does data collection become too personal.
Be it the discussion of Cambridge Analytica, all the questions that were raised to Facebook; the core idea behind the worry remains the same. No other application or website or company has to face this worry from us more than Google does. The amount of data that it has access to can collect and use is immeasurable. Google search has become synonymous with searching and therefore every query on the Internet is answered via Google for the most part. There are also multiple Google-based apps such as YouTube and the whole ecosystem being from Google when it comes to Android devices. There is a treasure trove of information about us intermingled in all this information search and looking is also a lot of personal data that is shared by our devices and also by us directly when feeding it in these applications.
It is this last part that is the major concern of us all. What we search on Google or YouTube will be retained by them is an assumption that is made and understood by all of us. But what happens to the data that we do not willingly give them, or that we have to share with them in order to avail of their services? Is that data collected and stored? How is that data used? These are the questions that often come up. What also comes up along with these questions is how much of a choice do we really have in the matter?
Those of us who wish to choose to stop Google from collecting our data, what are our options? This will be the straight point of what we tell you today. How do you prevent Google from collecting your personal data and using it for their own ends? To understand this at length, we also have to understand what are the different kinds of data that they have access to what we give access to. What are the various forms in which this data is collected? Only once we know this can we then finally discuss how to prevent such data collection as much as possible for us.
Data collection by Google
Data collection for Google comes from four major sources or in four separate forms above board. These sources/ forms are:
- Web search and history –This is data that you feed into Google search history or a similar tool linked with Google. The data here is what you are seeking in any form and often includes your queries for things, people, places, or concepts. This is coupled with your search and Web history to draw a profile of you from your data points internally for the Google input fields. All forms of search – text, audio, OkGoogle, are included in this.
- Application history and activity –There are many apps that seek your Google email to link and work or require you to sign in with an email ID. The data points that are generated here are also an input for Google. Not just this, also a source is the application choices you make for downloading from the Google Play Store in case you are the owner of or are linked to an Android account.
- YouTube history and choices –The website and application YouTube belongs to Google. This gives them access to your video search data, what you viewed and watched again, which videos you like and dislike, what channels you subscribe to, and much more. This is a plethora of input points for Google and you can see they are used by seeing the “Mix” playlists YouTube automatically makes for you or the video suggestions are given to you.
- Google maps and GPS data –One of the most telling and detailed data points that are shared by any Android or Google maps user is their location history and their GPS data. This data allows the company to not only know the whereabouts of the users but also collaborate the same with place searches and roads on Google maps. This data allows them to understand traffic and density or place details which it shares with us when using Google maps.
What needs to be realized and understood with respect to all these three data types is that the data we actively feed in the apps or the search engine or the search bar is going to be picked up. That is how the system works. It helps them give us the right service and for them to have the right ads to show to us. The problem comes from the personal data that they collect, store, and share without our input. The GPS coordinates of all pictures we click on our Android devices, the contact information and personal reminder dates we put in our phonebook and calendar on Google run apps. This is the kind of information for which the worry lies and which we will talk about.
How to prevent this collection of data
Having spoken at length about what the data is that is collected and why the collection of personal data is a point of worry, let us now talk of what all it is you can do at your level in order to prevent Google from collecting your personal data. We are still only talking of all data and actions that are above board and legally permissible. There are ways to curtail if not completely stop the data that they have of you.
- How to view and delete your web and app history
This may well be the simplest of the methods to prevent data collection though it is retrospective. We know data gets collected in the very second that it is generated. This then aims not as much as the collection of the data but at its storing and further use.
To view what your web history Google has, you need to go to the Google Account Dashboard after login. From there head to the “Manage your data and personalization” tab in which goes to web and app history. This is where you can view your web history that is with Google in complete detail.
The data you find here may shock you. Apart from the data you freely shared they have activity notes on all voice commands given to Google devices, all email searches, all app activities, and many other personal details as data points.
Deleting this can be either by activity type or date of the activity or a sweep delete. Understand that Google will warn you that this may make working on the web or with Google-based apps less convenient but this is a choice you must make for yourself.
- Choosing to automatically delete web data
Google seems to understand it appear understanding of the need of people to not have their data stored. A recent rollout by then allows you to choose to delete the data points they collect from you, which as we have seen collect personal data too, after a period of 3 or 18 months from its collection point. This setting if activated will do so continuously for the constantly generating data points.
It is sensible to choose this option for it helps prevent data storage and use by the company indefinitely. That is what it was till this point. The question then becomes whether or not you want to choose 3 months over 18 months. This will honestly depend on how much convenience you wish on your apps (such as maps) and your web (Google search and results optimization for you). The data sensitivity issue seeks you to choose 3 months but you may believe otherwise as well and choose accordingly.
- Preventing Google from collecting further data
Till now we have been able to help you only with respect to data storage, not collection. This particular step can help you prevent the collection of the data in the first instance itself. In the Google Dashboard, Data and Personalization, Web and App Activity tab, there is an option to turn off data collection.
Google warns users that turning this collection option off would interfere with their Google and Google based apps experience. While this has in no way been established to be true by anyone, the inconvenience that this may truly cause is one we have discussed above with respect to customizations of results and apps. That is a choice you must be ready to make when doing this.
- Managing map and location data
This is the data set that most surprises and infuriates most users when they understand the extent to which personal data is collected by Google. They claim to do so to make travel and place discovery experience for all better but the cost is your direct privacy. Look up your Google timeline and you’ll notice that having a Google signed-in device on you means every small detail of where you go is stored.
To delete previously stored data, the process is the same as we listed in the first point above. You can filter activity by locations and maps and delete that data.
To ensure data collection of this amount or this field is curtailed, you must go to your Google account page, activity controls, and then location history. There toggle it to off (the left). This prevents the collection and storage of this data point.
- Customize but not eliminate targeted marketing
The discussion till this point has been on preventing Google from collecting your data which ideally would be the elimination of targeted marketing too since it is that data that is used. Just like the other effects of saving data collection that we discussed, finding completely mismatched and inconsequential ads may well be a side product of your choices from above too. If you wish only to customize this marketing rather than eliminating it entirely, you can work on the Google Targeted Advertising Dashboard and make the changes as you deem necessary. Just remember that any changes made may be only effective for the collected data and may relapse once new data is collected if you haven’t taken the other actions we listed.
Sharing data and its collection in the technological world of today is something that cannot be fought. The battle then remains to preserve as much personal information as we can. We hope that the ideas we have shared, once implemented, help you in doing just that. As technology evolves and grows so will the means of collecting it; this will require finding also the ways to tackle the same as and when it comes up.