Google’s suite of apps is among the most widely used in the world. They are easy to navigate, free, and are constantly updated and patched. It’s no wonder that Gmail, Google Maps and Chrome are so popular.
Despite its universal acceptance, Google has a poor track record when it comes to data privacy. The tech giant has taken steps to reassure user confidence, such as announcing self-destructing emails. How much truth is there to this claim? Tap or click here to find out.
We’ve collected information on Google’s data collecting practices. Some are new, while others have been occurring for some time and were recently discovered. Read on to learn more about these Google changes.
1. FLoC ad tracking
Cookies are like a crumb trail of your online activity. Whenever you visit a website, a cookie is created and stored in your web browser. These can help keep track of your online cart and login information, so you don’t have to redo them every time. They can also preserve your options and settings. This can be helpful, but cookies also pose a risk.
Google recently announced it would be banning cross-site cookie tracking. It implemented its own tracker called Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC.
FLoC runs unnoticed in your browser and groups you with people with similar interests. It can share your ID with people you’ve interacted with. Google uses this tool to put out targeted ads. If you’re using Chrome, you may be “FLoCed” without even knowing it. Visit amifloced.org to find out if you’re part of the trial.
You can opt out of third-party settings in Chrome by opening the menu (three dots) and going to Settings > Cookies and other site data and checking the box for Block third-party cookies. Tap or click here to see how much data Google admitted to collecting from your phone.
2. Google collects tons of data from Android devices even when idle
No matter which smartphone you choose, your data will be collected. You can mitigate this to some extent by changing your settings and opting out where you can, but your carrier, phone manufacturer and app developers will find a way. It turns out your choices do matter when it comes to how much data you are giving away, however.
A recent study from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland showed that Google’s mobile operating system collects 20 times more data than Apple’s. This includes your Android phone’s serial number, sim card’s serial number, phone number and cookies, among other data.
While Apple also has its own tracking system in place, including your local IP address, Google comes out on top for the sheer amount of data collected and that it can do so while your Android phone is idle.
You can opt out of some of this, but not all. Tap or click here to learn more about this Google practice.
3. Google Chrome collects private data even in Incognito Mode
Incognito Mode is a term Google uses to denote private browsing, but it has become the normal label even for other browsers with the feature. Private browsing works on a local level — that is, on the one machine you set it up on.
Incognito Mode won’t remember your website visits, logins, cookies or searches. If someone else sits down at a computer you just used in Incognito, they won’t be able to see what you were doing.
It turns out that Google may be taking the word incognito too lightly. A lawsuit claims that the company is collecting data even when private browsing is active. Google sought to throw the case out but was denied by a federal judge.
“As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity during your session,” a Google spokesperson wrote in an email to The Verge.
While your activity will not be saved to a device or browser while using Incognito Mode, websites can track the data using their third-party analytics or ads services tools. If you want to protect your privacy truly, a VPN is the way to go.
4. Google Maps can lead others to you
Whether you’re heading to a local spot or exploring a new city, GPS will help you get there. Geolocation can also point you to the nearest places of interest. This comes with a caveat, as it gives away your location. It turns out that Google Maps does all this and more, as it tracks your shopping habits, visited locations and more.
You can delete your location history in Google Maps. Here’s how:
- Open the Google Maps app and tap your profile picture or initials.
- Tap Settings > Maps history
- Scroll down and delete locations you’ve been one at a time, or select Delete and pick a date range/delete everything.
5. The hidden map in Google Photos
People can sometimes identify the location of a photo from a landmark, but this isn’t necessary when the photo’s location is available. It turns out that Google has been storing location data from photos. Unless you turn this off, Google Photos will store every photo’s location in its data.
Want to see it for yourself? Open the Google Photos app, tap Search and select View All under Places. This will group photos from specific locations. Want to switch this invasive feature off? Here’s how to hide it:
- Open the Google Photos app and tap your profile picture/initials.
- Go to Photo settings and turn on Hide photo location data.
The above instructions hide the data but don’t delete it. Here’s how to remove the location:
- Open the Google Photos app and select the picture you want to remove the location from.
- Swipe up to get the photo information.
- Tap Remove Location, then Remove.
Removing Google Photo locations using your PC is just as easy:
- Open Google Photos on your PC and click on an image or video.
- Click on Info and look for the location data at the bottom.
- Click on the pencil to edit the location.
- Mark multiple photos with the checkmark in the top-left corner of each thumbnail.
- Once you have your selection, click the three-dot menu and click Edit location.