Have you ever thought about what your internet searches may reveal about you? I assumed it was harmless information until I looked at all my searches listed in front of me.
You might be surprised to know just how much Google knows. This past weekend alone I searched for information about a local parade, flights to San Francisco over a certain weekend, San Francisco Giants tickets, and a “how to” video about my car. While on its surface this may seem uninteresting, just think of what can be gleaned from it. A person with these facts could know where I would be and at what times, along with the type of car I have.
If this material got in the wrong hands it could potentially be harmful. For this reason, it is important to occasionally check-in with our search engine for a privacy checkup both while at work and at home.
Here are a few ways you can check in on the (potentially creepy) data Google has on you so you can clear Google from keeping any unwanted details. Tip: you will have to log into your Google account to use any of these available tools.
Entire Google Search History
Even if you are religious about clearing your browsing data or search history, if you conducted a search while logged into your Google account, all those searches (from the beginning of time) are still accessible. Google’s new My Activity tool gives you a better picture of your data tracks, allowing you to search and delete your history by using keywords and dates. However, keep in mind that the My Activity tool only shows your searches on the device you are currently using, so checking the following tools is still important.
Although both Android and iPhones by default do not report your location, this setting can easily be switched on, often allowing Google to collect this information. For instance, if you use Google Maps on your phone, the location is needed for the app to work. Additionally, in your browser window, you might see that your location listed at the bottom of a search (see image) and that information is then reported back to Google if you allow it to. You can check what Google knows about where you have been here: https://maps.google.com/locationhistory
When I checked my “interested topics” they were far off (apparently I am interested in East Asian Music and Reggaeton?! I had to google Raggaeton to figure out what it was before realizing it was short for Raggae. But I assure you 90 percent of what I listen to is Country, so it is unclear of where this came from). Google did know my gender, age, and it did have two of the listed topics correct. This profile that Google creates of you is based on your searches is then used to tailor the ads you see. Tired of seeing ads for something you’re uninterested in? You can view and edit the profile Google has on you here: http://www.google.com/settings/ads/
You can look at all the apps and extensions running in the background when you search Google as well. I had apps I had never heard of accessing my profile before discovering one of them was the reason for many spam emails. Follow this link to see what apps you are allowing to access your information.
The good news is that Google does encrypt your data so outside sites cannot see that you specifically are the one conducting these searches. However, breaches similar to the AOL data leak in 2006 revealed just how much this information is unique to us and how it can be traced back to us even if we are identified as a random number. Although these leaks may be rare, you won’t regret conducting a quick privacy checkup at least once a month.
Guest Blogger: Joan Lawlor
Joan is an intern for the Communications team at TDS and helps write for the blog, social media sites, and much more. She is studying Legal Studies and Journalism at the University of Wisconsin- Madison and will be a senior in the fall. Joan has a love for travel and most recently returned from spending five months abroad in Europe where she visited 13 countries.