The trade off is more or less known to everyone: Google gives you excellent products and services free of charge, and in exchange, we allow it to share our life and collect all the most intimate information. Now, Google is launching a special website that displays all the information it gathers about us in its many services on our various devices.
From your apps to the video clips you watched on YouTube
The new website that Google has now launched, called My Activity, displays something like a timeline of all the many activities you have engaged in on your various devices – from your computer and tablet to your smartphone. These activities are displayed in chronological order, and include a daily summary. For example, you will be able to view various apps you used on your smartphone, and at what time of day you used them. You will be able to view a list of the websites you visited during the day, reminders you set for yourself, and so on.
One especially creepy feature is reserved for users of Google Now and voice orders, which are equivalent to Siri: On the website, you can hear all the recordings of your voice as they are stored on Google servers. Among other things, you can see tidbits of information Google has gathered about you in services such as Google Maps, Google Play, Google News, searches of the company pictures, the Chrome browser, video clips you watched on YouTube, and more.
In addition, the website serves as a kind of index for Google’s other services in which the company collects information about you. For example, you can jump to Google Local Services, in which it accumulates quite a detailed history of all the places you have ever visited. You can go to the advertising section, where you can view your profile – which Google’s advertisers use to target their ads – or even the section in which all your past searches are stored and you can download them to your PC.
Increasing your awareness of the quantities of information about you that Google is collecting, however, is not the only reason that the website is useful. The website also enables us to delete this information with a click of the mouse, and also to prevent Google from gathering such information in the future. To delete a specific item, such as a video you watched on YouTube or an app you used, for example, you can simply click on the Delete button next to it. Since there are sometimes hundreds of separate items in a single day, however, Google also allows you to delete multiple items according to specific dates, or according to the product. For example, you can delete all the searches you did on Google, or all the video clips you saw on YouTube, or just delete all your activity within a given range of dates.
Incidentally, when we checked it out, we discovered rather large differences in the quantity of information Google has about Android users and iOS users. These differences, of course, stem from the fact that iPhone users make less use of Google’s apps and services, and prefer, for example, Apple Maps, iCloud, the Safari browser, and other built-in Apple services.
Frightening? Not really
Superficially, it is easy to knock Google and accuse it of acting like Big Brother by constantly collecting information about us, and who knows what it does with that information? It is difficult, however, to think of another company so responsible that it puts its cards face up on the table, and says, “Here’s everything we know about you; now decide what to do with it.” The information is transparently and intuitively accessible, with a simple basic interface, allows all the information to be easily deleted, and enables you to halt future data gathering. Google will tell you, of course, and with a great degree of justification, that it uses this information to personalize ads for you and to improve the personalization of the services it provides, but in the end, the choice is yours.
It is important to keep in mind that many companies are gathering many details about you, and in contrast to Google, they do not bother to be transparent, or to let you control this information. This goes for companies from Microsoft and Apple to Facebook, insurance companies, and telecoms.