It’s not too hard to imagine the kind of things Google knows about us. We use Google to search the internet, store our photos and guide us to destinations when we’re lost, so they’ve probably got all those details stored somewhere, right?
Let’s take a closer look at what Google knows, and what it's doing with all this information. We'll start with a search.
Google knows what you’re searching for
Google saves every search you’ve ever made, and every Google ad you’ve ever clicked on. If you’re feeling brave enough to view your browsing habits, take a look here:
For all you Android users out there, your search history isn’t just what you’ve type into the search bar. Google also saves a copy of everything you've said to your voice activated personal assistant, Google Now. You’ll find this information stored under 'Voice & Audio Activity' on your history page. This includes a transcript of what you said along with a playback option, allowing you to relive your most memorable voice commands.
Google know what you've seen
If you're making the most of Google Photos, you’ll quickly learn that Google knows an awful lot about your precious pics. But hopefully you won't be creeped out by this, because Google uses this information to make sure your photos are stored neatly, and lets you look for them in a number of ways. For example, you can view photos by location or date, and even search by any keyword you can think of.
There’s also a ‘search by people’ feature (not available in all territories yet, so you might not be able to get this) that automatically sorts your photos by person. This feature uses some impressive facial recognition software, but it’s not perfect – sometimes the same person can have more than one profile, for some reason. Rather annoyingly, it also includes images of lots of random strangers in the background of your photos - although if you’re being stalked by a mystery stranger, this might be a good way of discovering it. Then you’d have a right to be creeped out.
Google knows what you want
While you’ve been happily going about your day to day business, Google’s been creating a profile of you, to help it send you targetted advertising. You can view your profile here:
These profiles aren't always completely correct – we’ve heard of young ladies being classified as middle-aged men, for example. But if you use Google + regularly then your profile should be fairly spot on, and the list of your likes/dislikes will be pretty accurate too (feel free to comment below if your profile is way off the mark).
Google knows where you’ve been
Google’s new Timeline feature (only available on Android at the moment) lets you relive all your old trips on Google Maps.
It’s a handy way of looking back on the places you've travelled to on a given day, month or year. Or if you’re a tabloid journalist, Google’s terrifyingly creepy new Timeline feature lets you stalk yourself…
You can use Timeline to see where you’ve been, and if you've got Google Photos, you’ll see the pictures you’ve taken at various locations.
Think of an old friend or relative who’s no longer with you. Timeline can let you look back and reminisce on memorable holidays and favourite places you've been together. Sweet, eh?
Or, looking at Timeline through less rose-tinted spectacles, if you suspect your husband is a serial bigamist, and that his tales of going on SAS missions every second weekend might not be true, then a quick look on his Timeline could reveal all. But this isn’t really what Timeline has been designed for.
It’s obviously illegal to access someone else’s account, and because your husband’s in the SAS he’s probably really good at personal security. He may even be using Google’s 2-step verification.
Google knows about... 2-step verification
As you can see above, Google knows an awful lot about you. And if you want to keep this information safe and secure, 2-step verification is worth looking into. It’s a simple feature that asks for more than just your password, for extra security.
The two steps in question are ‘something you know’ (like a password) and ‘something you have’ (like a phone). So after you enter your password, you'll get a code sent to your phone. You then need enter this code to get into your account.
Take a look at Google's video guide to find out more.
Not every website supports 2-step verification, but you’ll be able to use it for the likes of Google/Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, DropBox, Evernote LinkedIn, Yahoo Mail, Microsoft Accounts, WordPress and PayPal.
And that’s about it. You now know everything Google knows about you - and how to keep that information safe from prying eyes.
If you want to see all the Google services you’re currently using, here’s a link to the settings dashboard – you can ask for a monthly activity report to be emailed to you, if you think you'd find it interesting.
What do you think of Google? Are you freaked out by what it knows about you, or fascinated by the cool things it lets you do for free? Share your thoughts below.