It’s no secret Google knows a ton about you.
For example, let’s take a sample case of Ms. Jane Doe.
If you do a Google search on Jane Doe, you’ll find out that Jane’s:
- Between 18 to 24 years of age.
- Into math and coding.
- Working for a tech employer (with 51 to 200 employees).
- A computer science graduate.
- Living on rent.
- Income is relatively higher.
- Planning to get married.
- Not looking to have kids.
So does how Google knows so much?
According to Google, it puts the 2 and 2 together through your signed-in activity on Google. These include searches performed while you’re logged in or your YouTube search. The best method is to disable the “web and search activity toggle” in Google. Also, Turn off the “YouTube search and watch history option.”
Upon learning how close Google hit the mark with Jane Doe, she exclaimed “Holy Bejesus!”
Sure, some calculations were off when profiling Jane Doe but still close. Such as she doesn’t have a high income as opposed to her colleagues and doesn’t work in the tech industry. It guessed so because she’s tech-savvy and sometimes deals in code as part of her technical writing job.
Frightening and impressive at the same time.
Why were some estimations wrong? Google’s machine learning algorithm on their servers matches your activity to categories its algorithm has learned from other people on the internet. It constantly scans the data of 1.8 billion people in the database with Google accounts – that’s a quarter of the world’s population.
Imagine if even half of them are connected to the internet, the extent of information Google has on each of us is anyone’s guess.
Sure there’s a concept to DeGoogle and attempts are underway as far back as 2013 but it hardly makes a dent. Also, people use fake identities and multiple accounts to throw Google off their trail but you can’t beat the algorithm for long.
Another solution to this lies in performing searches while not logged in to your Google account. I know I sound like a broken record but it bears repeating: use DuckDuckGo, Brave search, Startpage, etc. to ensure anonymity. You’d be amazed how search results have improved for these search engines.
And Google searches are mostly SEO BS anyway. Paid links and organic links fight to death regardless of how much actual value they produce. Not ruling out the authenticity of their results, but merely suggesting there are alternatives available.
You can learn about what information Google has on you by visiting your Ad Settings. Toggle off “Ad personalization” to minimize Google’s algorithm from tracking you.
One thing you ought to appreciate, Google hides nothing it has on you. And has made these settings accessible but the only caveat is you must know where to look.
Now it’s not only Google with this knowledge about you. A close second is Meta, erstwhile Facebook. Facebook’s knee-deep and more so than Google because of WhatsApp and Instagram.
Experts fear the level of data access by these companies can influence political decisions because they know you better than yourself. The fact that they know where you live, and your job title, can infer your salary and if you’re getting that promotion or which university you’re applying to, and whether or not your parents are divorced is chilling.
Facebook’s settings to opt-out of personalized ads and other privacy-related toggles are scattered under different headings making it tedious to configure. I landed by chance on Facebook’s off-Facebook activity setting and the data it shared or was accessible to different companies via the platform was shocking to see!
Facebook AI can predict if you and your friends are starting adult life and will show you ads it dubs as “friendly”. For most people, it matches their interests.
What can we do?
The same old advice; use a VPN to mask your IP and surf anonymously. Better to use Tor because you never know if a VPN is a honeypot for a surveillance agency. Mullvad VPN is a rock-solid recommendation, by the way.
If you’re an iPhone user, turn off app tracking in the settings. Use incognito or a privacy-focused browser like Brave/Firefox, even better, use Librefox as it’s a hardened version of FF and comes with tightened security (no telemetry). I know the market share of Google Chrome is sky high and offers convenience to users but it fingerprints and is designed to profile you/your browsing habits. Ditch it.