Our daily lives are increasingly lived online. Whether we read the latest news, shop for new items, or simply stream videos or music, many of the activities we enjoy on a frequent basis are either exclusively online or have large online components. Almost all of those things are trackable.
According to Alexa.com, Google.com is the #1 most-visited website in the world and for good reason — Google’s web search makes it incredibly easy to find practically anything you’re looking for online for free. However, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The price of this excellent service is made clear by a popular aphorism: “If it’s free, you’re the product.” So how does Google make money from their service? By what they know about you. So what does Google know about you?
Your Search History
Whenever you search for a specific term on Google.com, it gets logged and associated with you. If you have a Google account that you’re logged into, it’s associated with you through that account. You may think that not having a Google account or being logged out of it is enough to avoid the tracking of your search history, but it’s probably not.
Whenever you access a website, the server which handles your request knows a piece of information about you called your IP address. It’s a set of numbers which uniquely identifies the device connecting to the server. Google logs search terms and has the ability to correlate search terms to your IP address. It further has the ability to correlate IP addresses to accounts so that it can associate search terms which were searched from the same IP address as was used to log into an account.
Your Site Visit History
In addition to your search history, Google has the ability to log at least some of your site visit history through a couple of different mechanisms. Firstly, any link you click from Google search results can be logged and correlated to your IP address or Google account as with your search history above.
Secondly, many sites on the Internet use Google Analytics to track users coming to their sites and to track their activity while on the sites. Google Analytics works by having code on a website which sends data to Google for logging and review by the website administrators – this includes information such as IP addresses. With this data also living inside Google’s ecosystem, enough data exists to be able to correlate your IP address with any sites you’ve visited using Google Analytics. According to a Princeton study which reviewed a million websites, nearly 70% of sites reviewed contained tracking for Google Analytics, so this type of tracking is quite prevalent.
So what does Google do with all of this information? They sell ads.
All of this information is a treasure trove for potential marketers because Google has enough information to make a shockingly good guess at what your interests are. Google can combine your search history and your site visit history with even more rich information if you use other Google services such as Gmail and YouTube.
Up until last year, according to Google, a Gmail user’s email was thoroughly indexed to determine what sorts of advertising would be relevant to that individual. However, even now, third-party applications which integrate with Gmail can still scan email and a newer version of Gmail itself scans emails.
YouTube also has the ability to hyper-focus ads based on your activity history and other things Google knows about you through other applications of theirs such as Google Maps.
What If You Do Not Want Google To Know
Private browsing sessions may not be enough to stop Google’s engine of correlation as any sites you visit will still receive your IP address. With so much of the web using Google Analytics, it will be hard to avoid some level of tracking, but you can use browser extensions such as Ghostery to block many trackers. One downside of such extensions is that they sometimes break the functionality of websites.
The web can be an awe-inspiring but also frustrating place. If you have any questions about data tracking or any other technology-related concerns, give SandStorm IT a call at (901) 475-0275, and we’ll be happy to help you in any way we can!