Internet and computer security technologist Bruce Schneier once told a group of attendees at the SOURCE security conference in Boston that "surveillance is the business model of the Internet" and, more pointedly, that "we build systems that spy on people in exchange for services. Corporations call it marketing."
In the wake of revelations about the collection of metadata by international intelligence agencies as well as more tangible concerns about the increase in financial data leaks and hacks suffered by banks, retailers like Home Depot and Target, and even entire hospitals — to say nothing of online threats like ransomware — more and more consumers are becoming wary of what their "online footprint" might look like to a determined hacker or identity thief.
If nothing else, internet users are becoming more and more security savvy, realizing the truth behind what Schneier said: the business function of the internet is to collect, process, and analyze millions and millions of data points — the things you like, the places you go, the items you buy, the websites you visit, even the things you self-censor and don't actually post on sites like Facebook — and then use this data to create profiles that allow companies to target you with ads.
It's a scary thought, but every move you make — every click, every purchase, even every step you take while carrying your phone — is known to someone, somewhere. So how can you control what data you're giving up? How can you see some of what you're putting out there?
The following links are a start. Posted on Imgur by user XZorbys, these 7 links will show you exactly what data Google — which controls Android, Chrome, and, of course Google search, along with innumerable apps — tracks, collects, and knows about you.
" Surveillance is the business model of the Internet."
In some cases, you can simply turn the data collection off. In others, you may have to delete an app that might be collecting or accessing an uncomfortable amount of information from your phone or computer. Whatever you decide to do is up to you. The knowledge, however, deserves transparency.
Here's what Google knows about you and how to see it for yourself.
1. Search history.
Your search history can be found here. It will show what you've searched for, what sites you have visited — unless you visit them in incognito mode — and your top search clicks. (The screenshot you see shows where I go. Exciting, right?)
Over time, Google develops an idea of what your interests are based on the sites you visit and the things you search for. They will then show you ads based on that data. All of that goes here. As you can see, I've turned my "ad interests" off. I still get ads, but none of them are creepily personal.
3. Location history.
If you've used Google on your phone or tablet while out and about, guess what? Google made a note of where you were and what you searched for. If you don't turn off location history, those places will show up as red dots on a map (like the screenshot shows.) You can look at where you've been by going here... And yes, you can clear and turn your location history off.
4. YouTube search history.
There's a reason that YouTube suggests '70s videos for you after you've gone on your Disco binge: it tracks what you've watched. You can view, clear, and turn off your YouTube history here.
5. Google dashboard.
Here's how you see exactly what Google services you're using. It's called the dashboard and you'll be surprised at how many there are.
Permissions is where you see what apps, extensions, and sites are allowed to access information from you via Google. You can revoke permissions for any sites or apps that have access to information you would prefer to keep private.
7. Takeout... (Everything)
Want a copy of EVERYTHING Google has on you? With Takeout, you can do just that and export a .zip file filled with everything from email to Google drive storage to your contacts.
In a world where information is power, you should at least know what information companies are gathering about you.
Did you know all of this information was accessible? What surprised you most? Let us know in the comments.