Is Google Spying on Me?

Is Google Spying on Me?

Have you ever browsed something online and afterwards ads for the site or item – or something like it – appear on other sites you visit online?

Google calls this targeting or retargeting advertisements, and it’s how the company makes money. This activity begs the question, is Google spying on me, and if so, how can I stop it.

Google collects data on your activity when you use Google devices, apps and services, such as Gmail, Chrome, YouTube, and Google Maps. With ongoing privacy concerns, you should know the kind of information Google tracks about you, how it uses the information, and what you can do to better protect and safeguard your Google searches.

What Does Google Track & Why?

Google tracks the places you go both online and in person. It also tracks the purchases you make, what you search for, the videos you watch, the device you use, and more. Google would say its data collection policies help deliver more relevant search results and ads to you. That doesn’t sound like such a bad thing – or does it?

“Google does do data mining,” said Golden West Desktop Support Specialist Chris Damers. “They’re not spying on you; they’re using your behavior to tailor your experience to you. It’s not necessarily malicious, but it can be unsettling.”

Much of the data collected is only visible to you. Google shares some information with the companies who own the sites you visit, although they won’t know exactly who you are or your exact location. Google details its data collection and storage practice in its terms of service and privacy policy.

Pro Tip: Using a browser’s private mode is one easy way to prevent Google from tracking your activity without having to log out. You might do this if you want to run a search without it being logged by Google or without it affecting ad recommendations. To do this in Chrome, click on the three vertical dots and select “New incognito window.” The dots are in the upper right-hand corner of the browser window in the desktop version and in the bottom right-hand corner in the mobile version of Chrome.

How Can I Protect My Data?

If you appreciate the personalization Google offers – think getting referrals for services, products or videos based on your previous online experiences – you can choose to trust Google to use all the data it collects responsibly. However, if after reviewing Google’s dense legal documents referenced above, you decide you don’t trust Google with your data, there are a few things you can do.

  1. Choose not to use Google services at all. Google has a large online footprint, so this could be challenging but not impossible. You can use your Golden West email account instead of Gmail, for example. There are other free email services and other browsers besides Chrome; some are even built around privacy. You can also use Apple Maps instead of Google Maps and other online video services instead of YouTube.
  2. Log out of your Google account when browsing, which is most likely associated with your Gmail address. Google still tracks some general information for anonymous users, but it doesn’t personalize future search results. (See the Pro Tip above for information on how to search or browse occasionally without associating your results to your account.)
  3. Update your Google account settings to limit the information it can gather about you.
How Do I Limit What Google Gathers?

You, as the user, can control what data you choose to share or not share with Google. To do so, log into your account if needed, and manage your personal info and privacy from your Google account.

You can “Take the Privacy Checkup” at the top for a step-by-step guide to choose the privacy settings that are right for you. From this page you can also visit the “Google Dashboard,” which shows a summary of your services and the data saved in your account. You can review and control the kinds of ads that Google shows you, as well.
Remember, you can take charge of how you experience – or don’t experience – Google.

Golden West does not endorse any products or services in this article that it does not provide.
Sources: Some information for this article was gleaned from online articles from Lifewire.com and Wired.com.

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