Google Search : How Data Collection Works

Established in 1997 in a rented garage by two people who met on a campus tour, this company has now become one of the most important assets in the world. Yes, you guessed it right! We are talking about BackRub.

Well you might also be knowing it as Google, which is more widely known compared to its official company name, “Alphabet”. With around 86% of Search Market share and 3.8 million search queries per minute, Google Search and its other products have made themselves almost essential today.

Thus, how this company conducts its operations matter to most of us, be it a simple search engine user to Google Cloud user. This is because, except for some products, a majority of its services are provided free of charge. So, how do we facilitate this for them? It’s none other way than simply providing a variety of information about our digital lifestyle.

In this series we will look at most of the commonly used Google services and products and how their privacy practices are conducted. We will start with king of the web search, Google Search.

Whether you have a google account or not, there are a number of information that will be collected when you conduct a simple search. Search Quires or Terms are one of the main information that is collected by the site. This is facilitated by details on your location, IP address, and type of the browser or device you use.

It gets even complex if you take actions through your Search, such as taking a call to a restaurant that you just discovered on the results.

The major concern is that, these details will be saved even if you are offline or not signed into an account!

“Your search and ad results may be customized using search-related activity even if you’re signed out”

If you are using Chrome, which is used by around 71% of Computer users, and have enabled synchronization, then your Browsing history will also be collected and stored along with your profile data. We will dig more into Chrome later in the next article on this series.

Furthermore, the websites and links you click on your search results will also be collected and used to track your movement around the internet. If you are wondering why they need all this information, there are a number of reasons mentioned;

  • To deliver, maintain and improve their services,
  • Develop new products
  • Personalization, including Search results and Ads
  • Measure performance
  • For Security and Protection

Speaking of personalization in Search Results, the information regarding your previous search terms will be used to curate the current results. This will be done even if you are logged into Google Account or not. (It’s all about Data!)

Ads are more related with the Google Search hence your information will be used to understand your “interests” and they cater Ads you like to see (or Google thinks you like to see) when you move from one site to another.

The vast amount of user data that the company has accumulated help Google Search services, specially Ads, to become the Cash cow for the company with over $98 Billion revenue just from the Search product.

“We use various technologies to collect and store information, including cookies, pixel tags, local storage such as browser web storage or application data caches, databases, and server logs.”

How does Google share our information? Only with the companies that are part of the “Alphabet”, but it is questionable.

This is because they further mention that the information will be shared with third parties when we have given our consent (which is practically done by following default settings), for site administrators, Legal purposes, affiliates, and “may share non-personally identifiable information publicly and with our partners — like publishers, advertisers, developers, or rights holders.”

“Some data you can delete whenever you like, such as the content you create or upload. You can also delete activity information saved on your account or choose to have it deleted automatically after a set period of time.”

However, there are unspecified data that will be retained even after you delete the account “for legitimate business or legal purposes, such as security, fraud and abuse prevention, or financial record-keeping.”

With the increasing concerns on the user privacy, recently Google has changed their policy on Search, Location and Voice command data deletion. Now such data, by default, will get deleted in 18 months. This only applies if you are creating your Google account fin this year and onwards.

Are there any measures you can take to protect your privacy when using Google search?

If you have a Google Account – You can use Activity Control, which is the dedicated page to adjust all things privacy related. This allows you to change search record, ad preferences and also export and delete some of your data either in a particular Google product or the entire account itself.

If you don’t have a Google Account – You have to rely on external application such as Privacy Badger, Tor Browser and Extensions, and alternative search engines such as DuckDuckGo. Simply going “Incognito” will help you to protect your privacy to some extent even if you do not use extensions or other tools.

While it is true that you cannot completely refrain from using Google Search, taking necessary measures can make sure that at least you do not compromise all your digital privacy!


The author RACALBS