Managing Google Data Privacy Controls

It’s no secret that Google monitors much of what users do online. Monitoring ranges from tracking location data, web browsing history, and app activity to using email content for serving personalized ads and keeping records of purchase histories.

Google claims that its data collection practices and policies improve the user experience by making it easy to quickly find almost exactly what people are searching for and then delivering the most relevant results. Yet, Google users are skeptical of what the company does with their data.

An excellent example of user data privacy concerns is Google’s (and Apple’s) proposal to offer Coronavirus contact tracing apps to help stop the virus’ spread. However, “Nearly 3 in 5 Americans say they are either unable or unwilling to use the infection-alert system under development by Google and Apple, suggesting that it will be difficult to persuade enough people to use the app to make it effective against the coronavirus pandemic”, according to a Washington PostUniversity of Maryland poll.

Google does take user data privacy very seriously as it makes its stance on data protection public, and provides online tools to help users choose what data they want and do not want to be stored or tracked.

“To make privacy real, we give you clear, meaningful choices around your data, all while staying true to two unequivocal policies: that Google will never sell any personal information to third parties; and that you get to decide how your information is used,” says Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, in a New York Times opinion editorial.1

Google also states that its privacy mission “means privacy cannot be a luxury good offered only to people who can afford to buy premium products and services” and that data privacy must be equally accessible worldwide.

Adjusting Google’s Privacy Settings

Google is continuously evolving and enhancing its online security and privacy tools for its users. The company’s security technologies detect and block phishing emails, spam, malware, and viruses from external threats. The Google Safety Center enables users to choose their preferred privacy settings across a wide variety of products and services.

Google’s privacy controls are also easy to use and let users choose their privacy settings from within their accounts. Adjustments can be made on a user’s Google Dashboard, Ad Settings, and My Activity section, all of which provide transparency for data collected across many Google services.

Google’s Activity Controls in each user’s account also save user activity on Google sites and apps such as location information for faster and more relevant searches, personalized recommendations, and experiences across apps such as Google Maps and Search. When it comes to location tracking, Googlesaves where users go with their devices to serve personalized maps and recommendations based on visited locations either when using a Google app or even when running apps on a device in the background.

For web browsing, Google tracks Chrome’s history and activity from sites, apps, and devices. Chrome tracking can be turned on or off, including the storage and monitoring of voice and audio recordings. Google also tracks what YouTube videos are watched and searched for more accurate recommendations and remembers where users stopped watching a video to serve it as a suggestion during a later session. YouTube video privacy settings can be adjusted here.  

Individual user purchase histories,tracked via Gmail, can also be adjusted and managed here. This Google support page details how all purchases for a user are taken from orders placed using Google services, including the Google Play Store, Google Express, Google Assistant, and even purchase and reservation receipts from third-party sites. Purchase tracking data can be deleted, but the service cannot be turned off.Finally, formobile and Internet of Things device privacy, Google gives users control of their devices by allowing the privacy settings to be changed as well.

Google Advertising Privacy Controls

Google Ads are the core of its business model, and the revenue generated from ads enables Google to offer its services for free. All user data collected by Google helps to target advertisements that users see across on their devices and web sites.

Conversely, Google Ad personalization lets users control what ads they see to make them more useful and tailored to their specific interests. And although personal information is not sold to third-parties, Google Ads can be turned off or on from specific advertisers with user data used or blocked for not only Google products but also partner websites and in mobile apps.

The company also states that advertisers use no personally identifiable information or third parties. However, Google does say that it may use data that includes searches and locations, websites and apps, videos, and ads, in addition to basic information such as user age, gender, and location.

Conclusion

Although Google does track and store copious amounts of user data such as private web browsing histories, searches, and location data, the company does offer many tools to help individuals manage their information. As with all cloud services, the responsibility for security and data privacy rests not only with the provider, such as Google, but is also shared with the user as data privacy responsibility is not a “luxury good” but an accessible right for all.

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