Today I found out what google knows about me,
consequently, I also know what most anyone with a couple bucks and a marketing/sales agenda (or worse) knows about me as well. What could google possibly have stored on me that would take up over 200gb in storage (that’s how big my files were)? The answer is, EVERYTHING! Everything I have entered into a google search, every photo I have uploaded, every YouTube video I have watched, every email I have sent, received, deleted and much more. You can download your Google history here and they will let you know what they have stored on your account (note, that’s different than what they have stored on YOU).
Most of these items alone hold little to no relevance or value, but when you use them together to paint the picture of me you get an amazing snapshot and story! The problem is that my story (meta data) combined with people that have similar interests or tendencies can now create correlations that can be used for good, and bad depending on whose eyes you are using. Because of these correlations, we can legitimately get to a point where people that match my age, experience, eating habits, and obsessive viewing of cat videos have an 80% higher chance of getting into an accident in the next 5 years. Which insurance companies (they won’t tell you this) can use to make your rates higher.
With enough data you can make high percentage cases for a lot of correlations, but who are we kidding, insurance companies have been doing this for years. The over 25 years old discount, the just married discount, the had a new child discount. All these things we voluntarily give to insurance companies to get “better rates”, I am going to drive safer because I have a wife, a child, and am older and wiser than I once was. In todays digital age they can use so many more markers to determine your risk. Should they? A lot of these practices are illegal in most states and countries, for now. I am in the camp of not contributing data to that machine/eco system. Could lack of participation in the system flag you, of course, but because of the legal implications involved in our current state of governance I don’t think any company wants to cross that bridge just yet, especially considering that the majority of the population is complacent in submitting their life online.
Being unknown to the internet and big data brokers is in your best interest these days, not protecting your digital exhaust can actually cost you money on everyday purchases. From insurance rates to airplane tickets you and your companies spending ability are being sold every day. The more you recognize and control how you contribute to your company’s profile, the better you will fair in whatever market place you enter next.
Here are some resources you can use to start your journey into reclaiming your privacy.
You can go into your google account settings and turn off a lot of these trackers (location, searched topics, watched videos etc) and I encourage everyone to go see what is in there and turn it all off. I also want to encourage everyone to recognize that just because you have turned those things off from being tracked, it doesn’t mean that Google isn’t tracking them in some meaningful way. Even after you logout and or delete your google account, the computers and browsers that you search google on are known to them, your activity will continue to be tracked even after you sign out.
Stop using Google to search, start using privacy focused search engines like www.DuckDuckGo.com
Stop using Edge/Chrome/Internet Explorer, start using privacy focused browsers like Firefox and Brave, while you are at it, turn off cookies and most other tracking tools that websites use to follow you around the internet.
Stop tying your accounts together with one universal login (Facebook/Google), start creating separate emails for each service just like you do with passwords (yes you should have different passwords for everything). You can do this with services like 33mail.com and others that will allow you to mask email addresses.
As an individual and a company, all the data you create is being profiled, packaged up and sold. With more and more data points being contributed to your public profile, every day a clearer picture of the digital you is painted online. Some of these changes are hard, old habits die hard, every time you get frustrated with new best practices for everything you do online, remember, you might be paying more because you can’t stop watching, cute, cuddly, cat videos.