Just the other day I received an email from Google Maps with the subject “Google Maps Timeline.” Upon clicking the email what I found left my jaw drop…quite literally! My “Month in Review” apparently, was every place I had ever visited, every day of the week. It also highlighted my most frequently visited locations, the number of miles I walked, drove and unique places I visited. Speaking of calories, they knew how much I walked and had all the data from my smartwatch. They knew how long I was sleeping, My REM cycle and how many times a year I fell ill.
If anything, this information was a treasure trove for someone like my ex. Plus, my email is not hard to get a hold of considering that it’s logged in on my phone, iPad, and my laptop at all times. But as I found out this was just the tip of the iceberg, there was a lot more they had on me. And Google is not alone.
Google knows where you’ve been every day since the time you purchased a Google device. Don’t believe me? Well, check out this link https://www.google.com/maps/timeline. You can sort your activity my month, day, year, etc. Heat Map type dots indicate where you mostly hang out, and the only solution to this is only not to carry around your Android device!
It is not just Google Maps that the search engine uses to profile users, almost every service works in tandem with the sole purpose of profiling you. Download your ‘takeout’ from Google and dive into every file of that over 4GB large archive and you’ll be surprised.
Your Google Drive exposed!
Most people like myself have a couple of important documents uploaded to Google Drive just in case our computers blow up. Things like a scanned copy of my Drivers’ license, my social security card, photos of my dog, some cat videos and an old yet embarrassing video of my first birthday have been on Google Drive forever. These are private and personal digital items I don’t want the world to see, as I’m sure you won’t either.
Over the years I’ve deleted stuff like photos of my ex-wife, videos of me bathing the kids (for obvious reasons), screenshots from when my credit card was hijacked, copies of my utility bills that I used for verification and loads of others that I’ve since thought were not needed anymore. Honestly, I had forgotten about them. Anyone would expect that once you hit the ‘delete’ button, the pictures, videos, and documents will be gone forever…not so!
The first place you should check is Google Drive’s ‘bin,’ that’s where everything you delete goes. But even if you empty out the bin, the data still hangs around Google’s servers apparently. That’s something many people like Dylan Curran (twitter: iamdylancurran) discovered when he downloaded a copy of his data from Google Takeout ‘google.com/takeout’.
Some other stuff your ‘Google Takeout’ will reveal
Google stores every bookmark you ever click on. Now even if you happen to delete them later on, Google does not. Is that an invasion of privacy? Well, in many ways it is, and for someone who likes checking out otherwise shady stuff on the Internet, it can be detrimental.
Google Data Download
Google also has a record of every email you ever received, sent, or deleted. That’s in addition to your contacts; Google Drive files (mentioned above), videos on your phone, YouTube videos watched, liked, shared, etc. If you’re into sending people indecent pictures, bear in mind that Google stores them too and in a way that they are never deleted. Also, browsing through Takeout you’ll discover every app purchased, every phone you’ve owned, pages shared, and products you purchased via Google. All of this information helps Google profile you more effectively. Artificial intelligence is developing all of this information to potentially help identify criminals, pedophiles, those who are likely to get a divorce, take a trip to some exotic location, buy a new car, etc, and this information is then used to market and sell you stuff.
Your social media activity exposed
Always thought that you’re great at appearing to be a progressive at work because that’s the only way to get a promotion and maintain good relationships? Well, Google knows otherwise…here’s how!
Google records and stores every hangout session, every location, the type of music you’ve streamed and the Google groups you’re active in. All of this information makes it easy for the search Giant to figure out your political orientation.
Now consider the fact that your account is hacked, or perhaps someone at work steals your password and downloads ‘Takeout’ only to find out who you really are. What would that do to your personal reputation? I bet you’d be fired or worse – even have to deal with a criminal lawsuit. So, apparently what happens online does not stay online!
Your YouTube history is their property
That’s right! Google owns YouTube, which in turn owns every video you’ve watched, and every comment posted. They also record every ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ you’ve clicked. Based on this alone they know whether you like guns, girls, dance, rap, etc. They also know whether you’re a hardline bible thumper or a Muslim would-be-suicide-bomber.
YouTube also tracks and retains information relating to the type of sponsored content you like. They also know the ads you’ve clicked on, which helps them build your “advertising profile”. Interestingly, the new ‘download’ feature which helps you save videos to your mobile device is also tracked. YouTube knows your location, IP address, email address, the device you’re using and according to some experts even its Mac address. If anything, that’s all you’ll need to track anybody down on Planet Earth!
Perhaps this information is being shared with law enforcement or probably it’s only sold to advertisers; YouTube is unclear about it. But apparently, your YouTube activity is valuable information to which you hold no entitlement except for being able to download a copy of it.
Want to download what YouTube has on you – just follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/feed/history/search_history.
Your app information is exposed
You’d think that a fingerprint-protected phone is the best way to prevent others from checking out what apps you use. Perhaps you’re a married man who secretly picks up Tinder dates. It’s easier to hide from your wife than Google, which stores all the information you can think of and then a little more! Google knows of every app you’ve downloaded, used and deleted over the years. They also know how often a particular app is used and where you go to use them. Google even knows who you’re interacting with via these apps.
So, if you’re talking to someone on Facebook via the official app, they know who that person is, where the people are based and at what time you assumingly sleep.
Google Apps Permissions
As it so happens, it is very easy for Google to gather all this information because you give the apps and Google permission to do it. If you don’t, there is no way to use the apps. Interestingly regardless of if you use a VPN, Google can still paint a pretty good picture of where you live. You can download this information about yourself from this link: https://myaccount.google.com/permissions.
Facebook collects a ton of information too – here is how:
Now like Google, Facebook also collects boatloads of information and, interestingly, most of it may come across as pointless. Like Dylan, we also downloaded our information, which turned out to be around a gigabyte that is around 1200,000 MS Word documents. But that’s not half as surprising as to what they collect.
Facebook stores every message
Every message you sent friends, people you want to be friends with and stalkers are all saved on the company’s servers. Even ones that you can’t see or think you deleted. That’s in addition to all the audio messages you sent via Facebook messenger on your phone and the contacts saved on your phone too. That’s a lot of information by any measure and is beyond what advertisers will need, but there is more…
Facebook will also create a profile based on what you have liked, shared and commented on. So, for instance, if you liked a picture of Kim Kardashian, then another of Jennifer Lawrence and another of Sarah Jessica Parker, all of that is saved, and you’re profiled as someone who likes married women or those in their 30s or something similar. What the social network does is create a list of what you like or are interested in based on what your activity.
Pointless things to you but gold for Facebook
Some may say that Facebook saving things like all the stickers you’ve used on the website is just pointless. The truth is that they store everything, even where you log-in from, at what time you log-in and how long you have been logged in. On the surface, this seems harmless, but in the hands of a marketer or even the CIA, it can be a weapon of mass profile identification.
Even Microsoft is collecting information
Your trusty Windows 10 computer also collects some information by default, but you have the option to turn those off. The catch is that you need to know how and which ones should be turned off. The privacy options have 16 sub-menus, all of which are enabled by default.
Windows 10 tracks and knows where you are, what programs are installed on your computer, when they are used, what they are used for, they can also access your microphone and webcam. That’s in addition to being able to access your calendar, emails, and contacts. Even your messages and call history are all saved on their server.
Microsoft Privacy Settings
Windows also collect info about what games you are playing, what you want to play, which types of videos you like, the music you listen to, etc. Microsoft can just as quickly browse your search history, know what you’re listening to on the radio, and which are your favorite websites.
What does all of this mean?
It certainly means that you shouldn’t trust the technology in your home, pocket or on your desk. The big corporations behind it don’t have your well-being in mind. As a matter of fact, your information is worth a million times more than the products you buy from them. Any military dictator or otherwise will pay top dollar to figure out who has the audacity to challenge them, and when these people are found deal with them in the most inhumane manner.
Foreign governments can use the information collected by these companies to influence public opinion. They can test and gauge which misinformation campaigns are more successful. That, in turn, means they can influence the outcome of elections, reform measures, and referendums (remember Russian interference in our elections through Facebook?).
All of this is awfully scary for anyone living in a democracy, but even more so for those living in repressive parts of the world.
What’s the solution? Stay away from Google and Facebook as much as you can. We need an alternative go-to platform.