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online privacy
Posted on July 20, 2015 by in Identity & Privacy, Personal

The popularity of Google’s applications is indisputable — there are approximately 900 million Gmail users, with about a million more accounts being opened each week. YouTube is just as robust, with 63 percent of Internet users regularly visiting the video-sharing site.

And although Google+ has struggled with gaining adoption, the social media site still has about 300 million users.

That’s an incredible amount of user data making its way into Google’s servers. So what information is being collected on you? Short answer: more than you might think. But the good news is that they’re making strides at Google. Privacy is becoming a much bigger priority.

What Google Knows

Not so long ago, Google was just a search engine that gobbled up queries and spit out answers. Although search is still a major part of the company’s operations, Google has evolved into a data-gathering company with intelligent analysis. That means it now collects data on the specific searches that each person makes and stores that information. The same is true for YouTube search and viewing history.

But that’s only the beginning. In an effort to serve up more relevant advertising, Google collects data on your age, interests, location, shopping history, app usage, calendar keywords and email topics. For example, if you’ve ever shopped online for shoes and then mentioned them in an email, you might notice you’re suddenly seeing a lot of shoe ads. This is an example of their ad targeting at work.

Depending on what devices and software you use, Google can also collect a log of your communication activities, including which friends you called, how long you talked and the geographic locations for both sides of the call.

Because of this level of information gathering, it can sometimes feel like “Google privacy” is an oxymoron. But don’t give up hope just yet.

Locking Your Information Down

Having access to the history of your personal searches and information picked up from your calendar, email and other apps can be unsettling. After all, with that much data available, a hacker could easily commit identity theft by pulling together a fairly detailed profile.

Fortunately, Google is taking steps toward more robust privacy settings that will provide greater transparency into what’s being collected and how users can opt out. In a new addition to its privacy policy, Google notes: “People have different privacy concerns. Our goal is to be clear about what information we collect, so that you can make meaningful choices about how it is used.”

For instance, you can visit your Google account history to review the personal information assembled on you and then edit or delete certain types of information. You can also opt out of some Google advertising services, adjust how your profile is viewed by others and better control how information is shared.

When thinking about how to protect your privacy online, consider taking the time to edit and control your Google account information. You can set your browser to block all cookies — the small pieces of data that get stored in your web browser and are used by Google to deliver ads — and delete any unnecessary identifying details about yourself.

At Google, privacy concerns are being addressed and the consumer is being given more control over their personal data. Ultimately, though, it’s up to you to make the time to protect your privacy online. Given the value of that kind of protection, it’s definitely worth the effort.

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