Google tracking without secrets

March 25, 2020 9 min read Written by: Avatar Przemysław Kwapisz
Table of contents
Table of contents

Have you ever watched The Truman Show? It is a movie about a guy whose life is a TV series watched by billions of people all around the world. The worst part is, he doesn’t know he is observed, and when he finds out that his whole life is an artificial reality, he slightly loses his temper.

I won’t say anything else in order not to spill the beans for those who haven’t seen it already. Still, no matter how surreal it sounds, in some aspects the movie does bring the 21st century to mind. Is everyone constantly observed?

Think about mobile phones that eavesdrop us and then show us ads related to what we have just said. Think about Google Ads related to what we have typed in a browser a few days ago. What’s more, Google maps sends us monthly reports on where we were, satellites look at us all the time from space. Doesn’t it sound a little like breaching our privacy?

We sometimes do appreciate that ads show us what we have already been looking for, or that we can have a look at places we visited during the last month. However, do you know what Google tracking entails exactly?

Once you read this article you will know:

What is Google tracking?

Google is one of the most prominent players in the digital world and has practically no competition. Did you know that, according to data collected by SeoTribunal, Google:

  • receives over 63,000 searches per second,
  • earned almost $95.4 billion in 2017 from ads only,
  • owns about 200 companies?

There are some search engine companies brave enough to even start to exist but Google remains the king, the phrase “to google it” has already been widely popularized and Google adds new features to its services on regular basis.

These features usually turn out to be useful and demanded. Do you even remember the times when Google Maps didn’t exist, and we were forced to use paper maps when going abroad to a country we had not visited before? Or when we were not able to check the ratings of a restaurant we were about to go? How could we even manage without it?

Nevertheless, every feature has its price. The number of ways Google is tracking us is constantly increasing… while we all allow it to be happening.

Google tracking definition

There is not a unanimous definition of Google tracking. Generally it is a compilation of all the ways Google collects data about us, our preferences, purchases, migrations, friends, tastes and peculiarities. To put it briefly, Google tracking is collecting data about Internet users using their search engine and applications.

A vast majority of people do not even realize how far this tracking goes, so it is worth mentioning that Google tracking information is a truly extensive set of data. Nevertheless, you are able to take control over Google tracking data, how long the company keeps the data and what purposes it uses it for.

It is worth noting that a lot of information I am going to mention is visible to you exclusively (and not to third parties at all), or used in order to show you more relevant ads. Truth being told, you need to decide whether you:

  • trust Google (and still, for example, want to get ads based on your search engine research),
  • consider Google actions a privacy breach and stop using Google services,
  • limit the data Google collects about you.

The choice is up to you. Nevertheless, since Google features can truly facilitate our day-to-day operations, let’s focus on the third option and take a closer look at how exactly Google is tracking us and how we can limit it.

How and why is Google tracking me, you and everybody else?

Your smartphone: Location

If you have location services turned on your phone, Google knows where exactly you are every minute of every day – at home, at work, in the town, or maybe doing groceries. By tracking where you go Google can easily and quickly get to know your preferences, habits and hobbies.

Sharing your location frequently turns out to be beneficial for you, because thanks to it you may receive valuable suggestions when it comes to nearby restaurants, monuments or shops. However, Google can also take advantage of this data accordingly, and choose targeted ads for you.

If you consider it a little breach, you may easily turn off location services on your phone. However, once you do this, you not only prevent your smartphone from sending your location to app maker or device regularly but also prevent yourself from using location-based services. The solution to this dilemma is to have this option turned off for the most of time and only turning it on when really needed.

Google Account: Location

Google can also use your Google Account to track where you are, and this doesn’t apply to your phone only. If you are connected to the Internet, Google can actively gather data and use it for ads purposes, or to show you the most relevant marketing campaigns leading you to the right business websites or landing pages offering you products or services you may purchase.

You might also receive a monthly report about places you visited in a specific month. These reports are usually concise and fun, but not everybody feels comfortable with getting them. Luckily, similarly to smartphones, you can also turn off this tracking and don’t get any creepy reports every month on your mailbox.

In order to turn this function off, you need to navigate to ‘Personal Info and Privacy’ or ‘Data & Personalization’ (depending on whether you have iOS or Android), and in the section ‘Location History’ simply turn it off – you can do this for the whole account or for some devices only.

Activity controls: location history (paused)

Google Account: Activity in App and Web

Apart from gathering information about your location, Google can easily access a variety of data about you – what phrases you googled (and since every person types in 3-4 searches each day, after a week it can gather pretty a lot of info), what you searched for in Google Maps, or what devices you were using when signed in your Google Account. You can also turn it off in ‘Personal Info’ section in your Google Account settings.

It is worth mentioning that this data is extremely essential for Google, and is a true trove of information when compared to location data. Google is piling up information about each user in order to target marketing campaigns in a more effective way, and to show you things you may be truly interested in. What is more, Google uses search information to develop new applications and features (like Google Trends statistics).

Nevertheless, the vast majority of Google users do not even realise that they can easily check exactly what data Google has already collected. If you wish to see your ad profile created by Google, you can take a look at it here and check exactly what preferences Google has assigned to you.

Ad personalisation is ON

When you enter the site, you can also notice that you are able to turn off this ad personalization by simply using the toggle placed at the top. Nevertheless, this solution is not perfect, as it won’t stop Google neither from collecting information from Web and App about you, nor from showing you as many advertisements as it is doing now. However, at least it stops linking these two together and you won’t feel as if somebody was spying on you all the time.

The answer to a question “is Google tracking me?”

“Is Google tracking me” is a pretty popular question and there is only one true answer to it: YES. Yes, Google is tracking you, me and everybody else… but we all allow Google to do so. Some of us don’t even realise how much information Google gathers every day about them, others know and usually try to limit it as they are not ok with this (which, as you can see, can be easily done). And the rest don’t truly care.

Google takes some obvious benefits of tracking our actions. This includes improving ads personalization, better marketing campaigns targeting, adding new features to Google platforms (as mentioned – Google Trends and Google Analytics), but it is up to us all to what extent we allow it. Google is quite open with its privacy statements, and you can turn off all the features you don’t feel secure about any time you want. The choice is yours.

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