My inbox, like yours, is full of GPDR notes from websites I’ve provided my email address to, telling me they “value my privacy” and need me to confirm I want to remain their subscriber — so they can send me even more emails.
Needless to say, I’ve used this opportunity to reduce my inbox clutter, actually following up with less than 5% of those requests.
Unfortunately, that won’t improve my privacy or make me share fewer details online.
A main reason is that I use Alphabet’s
Google products in my daily online interactions. I have a Gmail account, I access YouTube often and own an Android phone. Many of my readers do the same, not realizing we’re sharing with Google and, indirectly, with various advertisers using Google AdWords. Here’s how much the omniscient Google knows about you:
It knows where you’ve been …
Isn’t it nice when Google Maps can tell you when the next bus is coming, or where the nearest shop is? To provide this kind of information, Google optimizes your location information. Google can provide you with traffic predictions for your daily commute, as well as recommendations based on the places you’ve visited while signed in.
So, yeah, I’ve been around Zagreb, Croatia, a lot. Google says these maps are private and not shared with anyone, but if you want to err on the side of safety, feel free to turn this option off by logging into your Google account, clicking this link and toggling the blue switch to off. You’re invisible now, right?
It knows what you’ve seen …
… And I’ve seen a lot of PewDiePie and Linus Tech Tips episodes, as well as plenty of cool gadgets and cryptocurrency videos. This is because Google owns YouTube and uses your viewing history to fine-tune its targeted ads. In my case, this means I’m bombarded with cryptocurrency ads all the time. While Google swears it won’t share this information with anyone, and while it allows you to turn this off, I can easily see how this information could be used for political or even criminal profiling if, say, a politician got their hands on it. So go here and flip the switch. Boom. Now YouTube won’t keep track of what kind of silly cat videos you’ve been watching and won’t be able to recommend you even more vids like that. You’re invisible now, right?
It knows if you’ve been naughty …
Yes, I’m talking about your Google searches. These are saved for all of the obvious reasons. Also, if you’ve ever tried to command your Google assistant vocally, this gets recorded too. Yes, recorded — audio included. Google says recording this makes it smarter and faster. Here’s a slice of my history:
Yes, I’m a veteran 9GAGer. And video producer, honing his skill. Now, this information also gets used to optimize ads, and while Google doesn’t directly share it with anyone, it does use this data to optimize the ads that get shown to you on daily basis using its Google AdWords platform. So, according to Google, this aggregated data is stripped of individually identifiable information and then added to the pool that helps advertisers target you better. If you don’t want Google to sell your internet activity to advertisers, you can turn this off by clicking this link. It’s the first switch you see when the page loads. You’re invisible now, right?
It knows what you’re into …
By connecting all these dots, Google generates a list of topics you might be interested in. You can take a look at it and help them tweak it a bit better by clicking this link or you can turn it off by toggling the blue switch. I know you’re curious, so here’s what Google thinks I like:
Don’t judge me. I’m not an American, so country music seems appealing and exotic to me. And, yes, Google gets the majority of these things right. So you’ve turned this option off too. Good for you. But there’s plenty more to go before you’re off Google’s radar.
Most of the options we’ve already covered and a few others can be found here. So click the link and toggle away! And, no, that won’t make you invisible. Nothing will. Even if you take additional steps and stop using Google services, you will still leave the tracks in the digital snow. Websites you visit will keep logs of your visits, ads you’ve clicked, and they will retain them. Forms you’ve completed will end up on lists that may get sold to a third party with or without your consent.
Finally, why all the hubbub about privacy? Is it really because of advertisers? I think not, or at least, it shouldn’t be. It doesn’t bother me to see personalized ads. What should bother all of us is that all of this data gets saved in centralized data centers, just waiting for a hacker to break in and learn all he wants about you.
Then that very same hacker can “serve” you his own type of ads: perfect phishing emails tailored to your tastes, preferences and correspondence. Or worse. One solution is in distributed ledger technology, or DLT, but this is a topic for another time. Or is it? If DLT as the ultimate protection against cyber attacks seems interesting, click here and vote for it and let me know.
In the meantime, just be aware that your personal information is not so personal anymore. Happy browsing!