How scary is Google?

Google is Scary

Flashback a year and a half:  I’m reading this random article I found while article jumping around the internet and I find some crazy links to different aspects of Google.  Evidently Google was invading our lives much more than some of us realized.  This Google tracking is nuts.

Fast forward, now, to the present:  People still do not realize how much Google knows and keeps track of.  They keep your search history for up to 9 months.  Why?  I suppose there could be a variety of reasons that Google could use to justify this.  It would be awesome if there were a way to determine that someone was crazy and about to blow up a building, right?  Sure, but let’s be honest, the people who are blowing up buildings are not going to sit down and pull up Google to search for directions on how to make a pipe bomb.  They might hit up the dark web, but not Google.

What is Google tracking?

Two of the ways that Google learns about you and what you do are Google Timeline and Google History.  These are both linked to your Google account and all of the devices that you use said Google account on.

Google Timeline  They know exactly what roads I take to drive to and from work.  And they know when I stopped at the McDonald’s outside of the store I work at!  They track what time I leave (and arrive), how long I drive and each stop I make along the way and how long I stayed.  Now, the GPS isn’t perfect; when I picked my son up from pre-school last year, Google thought I was going to some Yoga place.  It doesn’t know me as well as it thinks it does…I would die before visiting a yoga place.

Google History  This one can tell me what videos I’ve watched on YouTube, what I’ve entered into the search bar on YouTube, what applications I used on my phone (possibly only those downloaded from the Play Store, uncertain), when and with what device I connected to my Google account, what I’ve searched Google for and what I’ve searched Google for using the voice search function on my phone!  I can even see that I sent text messages…not the content or the receiver, but that I used the messaging app.

What Can I Do?

This stuff is far from new, but you would be amazed how many people do not realize exactly what Google is doing while they innocently search and browse the web or drive to work.  The world that we live in has changed so drastically over the last couple of decades.  The idea of privacy today is very different from when I was a kid.  So, what can you do to protect your anonymity online?  Well, there are a lot of things you can do.  Here are just a handful of tips to get you started:

  1.  Tor Browser:  Tor is a browser that enables anonymous internet browsing.  Essentially, it routes your traffic through encrypted layers to obscure the origin of the traffic.  Does the average person need Tor Browser?  Not really, but you have every right to browse anonymously.  What you do while you are online is your business, not the NSA’s.
  2. Do Not Track:  This is an option that should be found in the privacy settings on your browser.  This only works if the web server is set up to accept Do Not Track messages, but it doesn’t hurt to turn it on.  Extra security is extra security.
  3. Block third-party cookies:  This is something that everyone should do.  This is how advertising companies track your browsing.  It by no means makes you anonymous online, but why let the advertising companies snoop on your every move.  Every browser has an option to block third-party cookies.
  4. Blocking Location Data:  Many sites have now begun to ask to use your location data.  The main purpose, in most cases, is to shove targeted advertising down your throat.  Most browsers will have an option to turn off location data.

There are tons more things you can do, depending on how badly you want (or need) to hide your identity online…some are easy and free, others are more difficult and cost money.  I’m not going to get into the more advanced stuff, but searching Google (lol) will give you the information you seek.  As an alternative to Google, you can use DuckDuckGo.  This is a search engine that stores no personal information and doesn’t track you.  Google results are typically better than any of these types of engines, but for most browsing DuckDuckGo will be more than sufficient.

I’m not one of those crazy paranoid people that thinks Google cares what I search for online or that the NSA even knows I exist, but privacy is continuing to become a rarity in this world.  These are just a couple of ways to hold onto a little bit of it.

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