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Security & privacy

Researchers find Google collects more data than users think

Perhaps now more than ever we are paying attention to what tech companies know about us. Facebook’s troubles opened the floodgates, so to speak, and because of that most everyone is being looked at ever so closely.

Indeed while Facebook has received the brunt of the criticism — deservedly so — they are not the only tech giant who we have learned to be keeping tabs on what we do online. Google is also in that game, and it’s perhaps even worse than we ever imagined.

Maybe we should have expected it, especially with as many Google apps most of us have on our devices. But still, it seems as though nothing gets past the tech giant, and that is not exactly a good thing.

There’s no hiding from Google, either

We know the depth of Google’s knowledge on us because of a new study that came out of Vanderbilt University. In it, researchers looked into what information Google collects on us, which it acquires via Android devices as well as with apps like Chrome, YouTube and others made by the company.

About now you’re saying you knew that, right? Or at least it is not a surprise?

Well, what about the fact that Google still collects data on you even when browsing in incognito mode? Because they do.

That’s right, even when using the mode Google says will make it so Chrome does not “remember your activity” does not shield you from their watchful eyes. So while Google says browsing privately means, among other things, that Chrome will not save your history, cookies, site data or information entered into forms, they are not exactly ignoring what you are doing, either.

How? Google not surprisingly collects data when we sign into its apps or use Android-based phones. That is known as “active” collection, which makes sense.

But it’s not the only way in which the company can learn about you.

Along with that, Google also collects your data through “passive” means, which many of us are probably not aware of. That is especially true when using incognito mode, as we kind of figured that meant our online movements were not being tracked by anyone, let alone Google.

The study found otherwise

It turns out that even if you are in incognito mode, logging into a Google account will leave behind cookies that can be identified. However, if the incognito window is closed before logging into a Google account, the data will be erased.

Put simply, even if Google is not directly acquiring specific and precise data, it is not tough for them to piece together what they do get in order to form an accurate and detailed picture.

Along with that, the study learned that just avoiding the use of Google services on a non-Android device, like an iPhone, is still not enough to keep Google off your scent. Many non-Google web pages communicate plenty with Google servers, as do a number of third-party networks and advertisers.

Just because they are not owned or operated by Google does not mean they have nothing to do with the company.

What does Google learn?

It really depends on what you use, both in terms of device and apps, but if you are on a phone for instance then according to the study Google can find out your location, routes taken, purchases and music listened to.

A majority of the data is actually gained through the “passive” collection, meaning it happens in the background and generally without a person’s knowledge.

Can it be stopped?

There are most certainly things that can be done to, if not prevent Google from tracking everything, at least limit what they learn. If you would like to see how to stop Google from tracking and targeting you with ads, tap or click here.

If the goal is to stop Google from tracking your movements, tap or click here.

However if you are simply curious as to what all Google knows about you, tap or click here — but just know that it might be surprising and upsetting.

And finally, if you are just looking for a way to search the web without being tracked by Google, tap or click here.

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