Google probably knows more about you than you think.
Sure, Facebook knows a lot about you, too—your facial features, what concerts you’ve gone to, what you’ve eaten for breakfast every Saturday for the past five years. But Facebook has a fraction of the information that Google does, according to former Google data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz.
The reason? Well, you’re more likely to only share public information with Facebook because you want people to like and comment on it. But say you have a horrible rash. You probably won’t update your FB status with that info, but you’ll definitely confide in Google the minute you type in “home remedies for a butt rash.”
Yes, that is a popular search term. And it gets worse. Check out Fast Company’s study that details the most embarrassing popular Google search terms by state and be prepared to cringe.
So, yeah. Every mortifying question you’ve posed, along with everything else you might have searched for, purchased, or reserved using a Google search engine is compiled into a consumer profile. Google is a data company, after all, and has to make money somehow—and it does so by providing advertisers with deep information about target consumers.
The first time you “randomly” received an ad for hairspray after searching for “DIY summer hairstyles”—you might have thought it was just a weird coincidence. Nope. Google in action.
But hey, lots of people aren’t creeped out by Google knowing so much about them—after all, it makes life infinitely easier when you’re trying to get directions in Google Maps and it already knows your location or when you’re served with relevant deals on stuff you actually want to buy.
Not everyone feels that way, though. And you should have the right to privacy when you need it. That’s why it’s important to know how to use Google wisely and adjust your privacy settings to suit you.
According to Harold Li, vice president of ExpressVPN, “It’s more important than ever that users recognize that they need to take proactive measures to protect their privacy, because internet giants like Google and Facebook certainly won’t.”
He advises taking these four actions:
Read the privacy disclosures
Adjust your Google settings
Visit Google account settings and turn off “location history” and “web & app activity” to ask Google to stop collecting your data.
Adjust your device privacy settings
This is a step that most people forget and given the amount of time we spend on our phones, it’s absolutely imperative for privacy. Go to your phone and/or tablet settings to turn off location sharing. This will prevent your device from sharing data about your location with Google apps:
- For iOS: Go to: Settings > Privacy > Location Services, then select apps to disallow
- For Android: (may vary depending on device manufacturer):
- Android 9 (Pie)
Go to: Settings > Security & location > Location > App-level permissions, then select apps to disallow
- Android 8 (Oreo)
Go to: Settings > Apps & notifications > App permissions, then select apps to disallow
Please note: you may still want to let Google Maps have location access at times so that mapping can work properly.
Additional protective measures
Li warns that your physical location can be discerned through other methods, such as through the HTML5 API and by looking at IP addresses, even when location services such as GPS are not available. So, if that concerns you, here’s what to do:
- To shield your IP address, you can use a VPN. A VPN is a service that you can connect through simply with an app on your computer, tablet, or smartphone.
- To prevent HTML5 from revealing your location to websites, you can disable location sharing in your browser or use a browser extension that spoofs your HTML5 location.
At the end of the day, you get to decide how much information you want to give Google. So use your power wisely.