Google is secretly collecting way more data about you than you ever thought

Google is secretly collecting way more data about you than you ever thought
In the wake of recent worrisome revelations surrounding Google's questionable location tracking practices, a new study from Vanderbilt University reveals that the search engine giant collects a lot more user data than initially thought.

The Vanderbilt study, commissioned by the trade group Digital Content Next, sheds light on how Google can link incognito browsing sessions from Chrome back to the user, without the latter's knowledge or consent. The study delves even deeper, examining how data collection works in various other Google services and apps, including YouTube and Photos, and the findings are bothersome, to say the least.

Starting with incognito browsing mode, the researchers explain: "While such data is collected with user-anonymous identifiers, Google has the ability to connect this collected information with a user's personal credentials stored in their Google Account."

"That’s not well understood by consumers," Douglas Schmidt, the author of the study, told AdAge. "But if you read the fine print on ‘incognito’ mode it brings up a whole lot of disclaimers."

"A person fires up a private browser session in Chrome. On websites that run ads from Google’s online ad marketplace, anonymized cookies are dropped on the browsers associated with the user. If the same person leaves private browsing mode and logs into a Google service like Gmail or YouTube, the act of signing into Google makes it possible to connect the earlier web activity to the now identified user. (Unless, that is, the cookies expired or were manually deleted by the user.)"

The worrisome findings continue, as the study reveals that both Android and Chrome continue sending personal data to Google, even without any user interaction. While conducting the experiments for the study, the researchers left a stationary Android phone with Chrome active in the background and found that the popular web browser "communicated location information to Google 340 times during a 24-hour period, or at an average of 14 data communications per hour." In fact, the researchers found, location information constituted "35 percent of all the data samples sent to Google."

What's more surprising, is that even iOS users who avoid the use of any Google products and visit only non-Google pages (which, let's be fair here, is not a large number of users) get their data collected:

"While using an iOS device, if a user decides to forgo the use of any Google product (i.e. no Android, no Chrome, no Google applications), and visits only non-Google webpages, the number of times data is communicated to Google servers still remains surprisingly high. This communication is driven purely by advertiser/publisher services. The number of times such Google services are called from an iOS device is similar to an Android device. In this experiment, the total magnitude of data communicated to Google servers from an iOS device is found to be approximately half of that from the Android device."

As can be expected, Google has taken issue with the study and its findings. According to a Google spokeswoman, who spoke with AdAge, the search engine giant doesn't "join signed-out activity with your Google account information. We do not associate incognito browsing with accounts you may log into after you've exited your Incognito session. And our ads systems have no special knowledge of when Chrome is in incognito mode, or any other browser in a similar mode (ex: Safari Private Browsing, Firefox Private Browsing). We simply set and read cookies as allowed by the browser."

"This report is commissioned by a professional DC lobbyist group, and written by a witness for Oracle in their ongoing copyright litigation with Google. So, it's no surprise that it contains wildly misleading information," the spokeswoman said in a statement.

source: DCN via AdAge

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15 Comments

1. Cat97

Posts: 1897; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

Not unexpected. You hate it, but you can't live without it...

2. cmdacos

Posts: 4220; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

Don't care. It's harmless data and benefits the services.

6. BGChicago

Posts: 225; Member since: Nov 16, 2014

But it drains your battery when used on phone/tablet/laptop. It may look like minor but it affects it

10. Finalflash

Posts: 4063; Member since: Jul 23, 2013

And yet I still get better battery life on my Android phones than most people get on any iPhone.

3. RebelwithoutaClue unregistered

"Google is secretly collecting way more data about you than you ever thought" Since it's in all in their disclaimers, what is so secretive about it? Quite the misleading title.

4. Onespot

Posts: 54; Member since: Mar 15, 2018

Phonearena, instead of blaming why dont you explain why they collect data. || For improving products and services so that they can serve better. Dont you want relevant ads? Dont you better maps? Dont you want better browsing experience? A better Android Os?

5. MarvzIsFallen

Posts: 646; Member since: Aug 11, 2017

They collect data so they can give you ads base on the articles you visit most.

7. RebelwithoutaClue unregistered

True, they do this as well. But without giving users anything in return, they would stop being so successful. So they also use data to provide the user with very useful services. Not to mention they are a leader when it comes to AI and I think they will focus more and more on AI and the services they can provide with it.

11. Penny

Posts: 1851; Member since: Feb 04, 2011

Yes, and all of Google's partner companies should have this information so they could best cater to me too! And I hope the government has access to all this information too so they could look out for MY best interests!

8. mrochester

Posts: 1000; Member since: Aug 17, 2014

The biggest problem with Google’s business model is they expect you to give all of your data to them for free and doesn’t pay you anything in return. If google wants to profit so handsomely from users data, it should be sharing that profit with the very people who have given them their data.

12. blastertoad

Posts: 42; Member since: Jul 17, 2018

I don't buy Garmin maps yearly anymore for $80 Cad. They produce the worlds most used operating system as opensource so $180 per install value maybe. I have saved hundreds of dollars purchasing items as I see ads for them on sale from various vendors after I have searched for them. I have avoided thousands in driving fines being able to navigate, call, and text reliably with highly accurate results via voice only. I feel this is a fair value trade.

15. Onespot

Posts: 54; Member since: Mar 15, 2018

Arent you getting free services already; android is free, Google drive provides 15Gb storage for free, Google maps is free, youtube is free, chrome is free almost every Google services are free.

9. tokuzumi

Posts: 1907; Member since: Aug 27, 2009

Google licenses Android to the masses for free, but gets revenue from ads and web searches. It's been like this from the beginning. They may suffer some Facebook style negative press in the near future. They'll be required to be a little more transparent about the data they collect, but this will be forgotten shortly after, much like everyone has moved past the Facebook issue from the election.

14. kabhijeet.16

Posts: 891; Member since: Dec 05, 2012

I fail to understand that why users want everything for FREE. If you are scared of this statistical data collected by Google for improvement in Google services, free games, free apps, free cloud storage, then just move away from Android & Google services. This data collection doesn't hurt anyone. You share thousands of your photos on web & are scared of this little stuff. Stay away from technology then.

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