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Google makes its money through selling advertising – the more targeted an ad is to you and your interests, the more money Google makes. And to do this, Google needs data – lots of data. Every search, every click, every swipe of an app, it’s all combined to turn Google into one of the richest companies in the world.In recent years Google has improved the ways you can control the data it collects but there’s still more that can be done to help people understand what they’re handing over. Enter Apple.
In December Apple introduced privacy labels in its App Store to show what information each app collects and how it might be linked to you. This can include everything from browsing history to your location. Google, perhaps unimpressed by Apple’s move, was slow to update its apps with the details of what it collects and how. Consider this: more than more than 60 apps and nine of its products have one billion people than a billion people use Google’s apps. That’s a lot of data. Here’s all the data that three of Google’s biggest apps – Gmail, Chrome and its search app – collect about you and what you can do to take control.Google appGoogle’s search app adds widgets and its own voice search to iPhones, as well as giving personalised recommendations for news stories and topics you may be interested in. As with a large number of Google’s apps the data that’s linked to you can be very rich, however for a number of device-level settings (such as photos and videos) you’ll need to give the app permission to access them.Data that is sent to advertisers (who aren’t Google): Location information, search history, browsing history, and other usage data.
Data that is sent to Google for advertising or marketing: Location information, contact info (including physical address, email and name), search history, browsing history, user identifiers (user ID and device ID), and usage data (product interaction and advertising data).Data used for analytics: Location, contact info (physical and email address), contacts, audio data, search history, browsing history, user identifiers (user ID and device ID), usage data (including product interaction and advertising data), crash and performance data, and ‘other data types’. Data gathered for product personalisation: Location, contact info (physical and email address), photos or videos, search history, browsing history, user identifiers (user ID and device ID), usage data (including product interaction and advertising data), and advertising data. Data collected for app functionality: Payment information, location, contact information (including physical address, email, name and phone number), contacts, user content (including photos or videos, audio data, customer support details), search history, browsing data, user identifiers (user ID and device ID), usage data (including product interaction and advertising data), diagnostics (crash data and performance data), plus other data types that aren’t defined.
GmailData that is sent to advertisers (who aren’t Google): location, user IDs and advertising data.Data used for analytics: purchase history, location, email address, user content (including photos or videos, audio data, customer support and ‘other’ content), search history, user identifiers (user ID and device ID), usage data (including product interaction and advertising data, crash data and performance data and ‘other’ data types. Data used for product personalisation: email address, contacts, emails or text messages, audio data, search history, user identifiers (user ID and device ID), and usage data. Data collected for app functionality: purchase history, location, email and name, contacts, emails or text messages, photos or videos, audio data, customer support and other user content, search history, user identifiers (user ID and device ID), product interaction, diagnostics (crash data and performance data), and other data types. ChromeData used for analytics: location, audio data and customer support, browsing history, user identifiers (user ID and device ID), product interaction data, diagnostics (crash data and performance data) and other data types. Data used for product personalisation: location, browsing history, user identifiers (user ID and device ID), and product interaction data. Data collected for app functionality: payment information, location, audio data, customer support data, browsing history, user identifiers (user ID and device ID), product interaction, crash and performance data, and other data types.What this data means and what you can do about itWhile much of the data Google collects will be used to help the company personalise and target advertising towards you, particularly data that’s linked to user IDs, there’s also some data that will be used by Google for making sure its apps continue to work as intended. This can include diagnostics and crash data that will tell the company why the app stopped working at various times. Google’s rivals have been quick to point out that their apps – as shown through their own privacy labels in the App Store – don’t collect anywhere near as much data. For instance, search engine and browser DuckDuckGo says it doesn’t collect any data that can be linked to users. The app store shows its app collecting usage and diagnostics data but this is labelled as ‘data not linked to you’.So what can you do about the data collection? In Chrome, Google’s privacy settings can help you limit what’s collected about you. Here you can turn off the third-party cookies that follow you about the web and send out requests for you not to be tracked online (although this setting is largely ineffective). In settings you can also turn off sync so that your browsing history isn’t passed across all your devices. Perhaps the biggest control you can put on what Google collects comes from its Activity Controls. Here you can stop Google from saving your web activity, turn off its access to your location, and stop personalised ads.All of the above will limit what Google can access about you to a degree, but it is only a sticking plaster. If you’re going to use Google, you’re agreeing to have data collected about you. Of course, this is the case for many of the free apps and services you use.An alternative is not to use Google’s apps or services. While this can be beneficial for data collection and privacy, it does come with some trade-offs. Google’s vast resources mean it has developed some of the most feature-rich and well functioning services around – competitors can’t recreate exactly the same results as Google produces in search, for instance.That doesn’t mean that it’s not worth trying out or making the move to more privacy-friendly alternatives. Arguably the easiest Google product to move away from is Chrome. There are a number of privacy browsers that limit the collection of user data and stop advertising tracking you across the web. Our favourites include Brave, DuckDuckGo, Tor and Firefox Focus. Moving away from Gmail is harder as there aren’t as many well-developed competitors. Switzerland-based ProtonMail, which uses end-to-end encryption for messages, is the main Gmail alternative to consider. Matt Burgess is WIRED’s deputy digital editor. He tweets from @mattburgess1More great stories from WIRED💊 A dying child, a mother’s love and the drug that changed medicine😷 Coronavirus vaccines are making some long Covid sufferers feel better🎧 Upgrading your headphones on a budget? We tested all of Amazon’s cheapest sets
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