Trusting Google with your data?

Written by Richard Van

When someone needs to search for some information, they typically go to Google to search for it. The act of searching the Internet has even become a verb; people tell others to “just google it” when they are looking for something on the Internet. Over the years that Google has been active, it has aggregated more data than anyone could ever hope to deal with in a lifetime. What does the search engine giant do with the data it takes from users and why is it so important?

Every time you type a term in a Google search box, that information is sent to Google right as you type it. It’s how they can come up with suggestions for your search and display them to you nearly instantly. But why are most of the suggestions so closely related to your search? Some people might not know that Google bases their suggestions based on your previous searches. Even less would know that Google also tracks your visits to websites belonging to other companies advertising with Google (“About Google Ads”).

Google’s means of acquiring data aren’t limited to logging searches; another way Google acquires data is through a small image or script called a web bug. A study in 2009 found that over 88% of randomly selected websites have a Google web bug (Gomez, Pinnick, and Soltani 4). That’s over 8 out of 10 websites in which Google tracks your visits, mostly without your knowledge. Google also states that they scan the content of emails sent to any Gmail account, “… to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customised search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection” (Gibbs).

What are all these methods of logging your data useful for? It’s useful for logging your personal data, data which can be used to identify you. According to Gould, this data is used to create an internal profile of you (the user) which is used for many applications, such as personalized search results, but more importantly advertising. Google has a massive advantage when it comes to serving users advertisements, as they can draw some data from your profile to display immediately relevant ads. However, Google notes that they can share information publicly and with their partners or trusted businesses or persons (“Privacy Policy”). As such, it is possible for companies outside of Google to read your personal data.

Google recording and logging data on you is not inherently bad, but not being informed on how, where and why your information is collected and used is. At the very least, it’s best to be aware that there is no guarantee that Google will continue to keep your personal information private in the future.

Works Cited

"About Google Ads." Ads Help. Google, 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015. < https://support.google.com/ads/answer/1634057>.

Gould, Jeff. "Courts Docs Show How Google Slices Users into “millions of buckets”." Medium, 30 Apr. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015. < https://medium.com/@jeffgould/ec9c768b6ae9>.

Gibbs, Samuel. "Gmail Does Scan All Emails, New Google Terms Clarify." Technology. The Guardian, 15 Apr. 2014. Web. 16 Nov. 2015. < http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/apr/15/gmail-scans-all-emails-new-google-terms-clarify

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Gomez, Joshua, Travis Pinnick, and Ashkan Soltani. KnowPrivacy. UC Berkeley, School of Information, 1 June 2009. Web. 16 Nov. 2015. < http://www.knowprivacy.org/report/KnowPrivacyFinalReport.pdf>.

“Privacy Policy.” Privacy & Terms. Google, 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015. < https://www.google.com/policies/privacy/>