PURCELL: All along, Google’s been Googling me

I thought Facebook knew too much about me, but it turns out Google is even worse.

Google, like Facebook, makes its money by targeting ads at us that reflect our interests and needs. The more both know about us, the better they’re able to target us with ads we’re likely to click.

But Google knows a lot more about me than I thought — plenty more than Facebook.

Since I created a Google account — I use Gmail and Google Docs for my rental-property business — I have freely provided Google with lots of personal information.

I’ve told Google my name, birthday and gender. It knows my phone number and password. It tracks my email correspondence, photos or videos I’ve saved, documents I’ve created in Google Docs, any calendar events I’ve noted, any contacts I’ve added.

But Google also collects lots of data that I didn’t know I was providing.

“When you use our services – for example, do a search on Google, get directions on Maps, or watch a video on YouTube — we collect data to make these services work better for you,” reports Google on its “Data Transparency” page.

That’s where things get a little bit creepy.

Not only does Google keep extensive data on the searches you’ve conducted and the websites you’ve visited, it likely knows where you are at this moment – and everywhere you’ve been.

I discovered this when I reviewed some of the data Google has collected about me.

My Android smartphone, I now know, has been sending Google my location data – incredibly detailed location data — for a very long time. I found this information on my personal Google Location History page.

Curious, I clicked on “Saturday, December 15.” A map displayed the entire route I drove that day.

At 9 a.m., Google knew that I left my house and drove to a diner; it knew the name and address of the diner.

It knew that I spent 25 minutes in the diner — I had breakfast with two hired hands who would help me that day – then arrived at U-Haul at 9:38 a.m. I left U-Haul with a box truck at 9:51 a.m. and arrived, at 10:33 a.m., at a private home to pick up some furniture I purchased from the owner. I left at 10:42 a.m. and drove to a consignment store to pick up more furniture.

Google knows everywhere I went that day. In fact, Google knows everywhere I’ve been — and how much time I spent there — every moment of every day since I began using my Android years ago.

“Google promises that it keeps all of this data safe during transit between your computer or smartphone and its servers,” reports CNBC. “It also says that its cloud infrastructure protects that data, and that it doesn’t give governments ‘direct access’ or ‘backdoor access’ to any information.”

Why am I not comforted by this promise?

It’s true that Google gives individuals the option of adjusting privacy settings. On Google’s Activity page, I can turn off location tracking and stop Google from tracking the devices I use, the YouTube videos I watch, my website activity and more.

Still, it’s unsettling that anyone, let alone one of the biggest companies on Earth, knows so much about me – and about so many of us.

Google it? With what I know now, it seems more like Google is Googling me.

Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

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