what google knows about you

Google Is Watching You – 4 Ways To See What Google Knows About You

Quick, where were you last Thursday at 1:32 PM?

Not sure? Google can tell you.

Which one of your contacts do you keep in touch with the most?

Google can tell you that as well.

Google knows about you… a lot actually. Every time you interact with any of the Google services (and there are many), while logged into your account, your actions are saved in a gigantic database. Before you freak out and phrases like “big brother” and “conspiracy theory” start popping into your head, think of why is Google collecting all this information. To serve you better.

The more they know about you, your interests, where you go, and how many people you are in touch with, the better ads they can serve you. After all, Google is a business whose primary revenue stream is advertising.  The more relevant the ads are to you, the happier the advertisers, the more money Google makes. Win-win from their perspective.

Plus, you act in the same manner in your personal life. The more you know about someone, the better the relationship between the two of you. After all, your best friends are the ones who know the most about you (that is what gives them the title “best”). So no need to worry, Google trying to collect as much information about you as they can is not a weird and obtrusive action (although it seems like that at first). They want to get to know you better so they can serve you better.

How much Google actually knows about you? In reality, noone really knows (or is willing to share with the public), but you can find out a lot, if you only know where to look.

The Dashboard

Login to your Gmail account (if you are not logged in already) and visit your personalized Dashboard.

the google dashboard

Welcome to “you” viewed through the big Google lens. Think of all this information as “life analytics”

If you click on any of the titles of the products, the fields expand, revealing even more information.

From your geographical location, age and interests (based on your Google profile), to how many meetings you agreed to attend and how long they took (from Google Calendar), to how many contacts you have and which do you keep in touch with the most (from Google Contacts), to how many emails you’ve sent (from Gmail) to even how many calls you’ve made and to whom (from Google Voice), and everything in between, it is all here.

Most of the information is quite interesting as you probably never took the time (who does) to analyze your digital life in such great detail. Luckily for you, Google did all the heavy lifting by collecting and organizing this data for you. All you need to do is login periodically into the Dashboard and everything will be neatly organized for you.

What can you do with all this information?

You deserve to be aware of how much Google knows about you. Armed with this information you can make more educated decisions.

If Google acting as a “Big Brother” is something you are uncomfortable with, you can make a decision which services not to use in the future. If you don’t want Google to know how long your meetings are, for example, consider using an outside calendar application instead of Google Calendar. If you don’t want them to know about your call history, but still want to take advantage of VoIP technology and make inexpensive calls over from the internet, consider switching from Google Voice to Vonage or even Skype.

The Dashboard information can also be used to improve your life and even your relationships with people. If you click on the Contacts field, you will be displayed the 3 people you write to the most. If they are all work related, but this the information from your personal Gmail account, it might indicate that you are working too hard and falling behind with your friends and family. Those 3 contacts should be friends and family, not business partners. Or you can examine the amount of tasks you have in your to-do list (under Tasks) and decide you are working too much, or too little.

Knowledge is power. The more you have (even about yourself), the better decisions you can make. Google is already collecting this information, so you might as well take advantage of it.

Let’s continue as you’ve seen nothing yet.

Ad Settings

Still logged into your Gmail account, visit the Ad Settings page.

google ads settings preferences

This is like a visual snapshot of your basic demographic data such as age, gender, language and major interests. Based on what is shown here, Google determines what ads are best suitable for you. It is a lot more condensed than the Dashboard, but it will give you a quick view of how Google perceives you.

What can you do with this information?

Although the information is not as actionable as the one from the Dashboard, it can still be useful.

This data comes from your public profiles on the variety of services that are part of the Google portfolio. If something is off, it can indicate that you entered the wrong information somewhere. That is generally not a big concern, unless you actively use one of their services. If you have a big circle of connections on Google+, you don’t want your profile to display that you are middle-aged man when you are a young woman. Or if you are trying to build a brand for your mobile game business on YouTube, but your profile is showing that you are an old lady that likes to knit in front of the TV, it might be a deal-breaker for some of your prospects.

If you find something that needs to be edited, click on the respective “Edit” button, or go to your Google Profile and make the necessary changes.

Plus, giving the right information to Google will make them serve you better ads when you are online. You cannot escape seeing the ads, so they better be about something you actually care and that can only be true of Google has the correct data about you.

Search History

Unless you have explicitly opted-out from Google keeping track of your search history, you can find all the data they have on your searches here.

google search history

You can see your search activity, broken down by the day, or even by the hour. You can see exactly what you searched for and when, and using the navigation on the left, you can break it down into categories such as Pictures, News, Blogs and see even more data. Using the little back and forth arrows next to the calendar, on the top right corner, you can go back to a specific date.

What can you do with this information?

Consider it your very own time machine that you can use to go back in time and see what was on your mind that Tuesday, after Aunt Lilly’s birthday… 6 years ago. It’s like a digital memory box, a journal, that you can use to reminiscent about the good old times when you and your college roommates were Googleing how to stop the fire-alarm because your first creme brulee attempt went terribly wrong.

You can also use it for more practical purposes such as finding that link that you clicked 5 days ago that took you to that website that you forgot to save, but contained that super important piece of information.

You can use the hour-by-hour breakdown to see if you are spending time on Google when you should be doing something else. If you see that you are very active around 9 AM every day, but you know that is the time of the day where you should be writing blog posts, it can indicate that you need to focus more and eliminate the distractions that can take you away from your writing and straight into Google-ing things.

Location history

If you have any sort of an Android device (phone or tablet) you were asked when you set it up initially if you are OK with your device transmitting location information back to the mother ship. If you said yes, here is this information.

location history

You can see where you were broken down by the day (with timestamps).

If you mouse over the graph on the bottom, Google will play out your entire day in movement-by-movement mode (warning: it is very tempting to waste a couple of hours playing with this, trying to remember what is it that you did when you went there on that day last week…)

What can you do with this information?

Again, this is like your very own time machine that allows you to go back and time and re-visit (almost literally) the places you have visited in the past. It is not very practical, but it sure is fun to play around with.

Over to you now

Google has collected a lot of data about you and now you know how to access a big chunk of it.

It is an eye-opening experience the first time you go though the process as you probably never realized how much of your digital life revolves around Google and their plethora of services. They have gathered all this information about you for their own purposes, but now you can take advantage of it as well. Armed with this data you can make better decisions about your day-to-day activities, your productivity and your life as as a whole.

Knowledge is power. Google has the knowledge, you have the power to use it to become a high performer.

What are some interesting things you found out about yourself and your habits while going through the above process? Share in the comment section below: