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All the data Google’s apps collect about you and how to stop it



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Google makes money by selling advertising – the more targeted an ad is to you and your interests, the more money Google makes. And to do this, Google needs data – a lot of data. Every search, every click, every swipe of an app, all to make Google one of the richest companies in the world.

In recent years, Google has improved the ways you can control the data they collect, but there is still more that can be done to help people understand what they are delivering. Enter Apple.

In December, Apple introduced privacy labels in the App Store to show what information each app collects and how it can be linked to you. This can include anything from browsing history to your location. Google, perhaps unimpressed by Apple’s features, was slow to update its apps with the details of what they collect and how. Think about this: more than 60 apps and nine of the products have a billion people than a billion people use Google apps. There is a lot of data.

Here’s all the data that three of Google’s biggest apps – Gmail, Chrome and the search app – collect about you and what you can do to take control.

Google app

Google’s search app adds widgets and its own voice search to iPhones, as well as providing personalized recommendations for news stories and topics you may be interested in. As with a large number of Google apps, the data associated with you can be very rich, but for a number of device-level settings (such as photos and videos), you must give the app permission to access them.

Data sent to advertisers (other than Google): Location information, search history, browsing history and other usage data.

Data sent to Google for advertising or marketing: Location information, contact information (including physical address, email address and name), search history, browser history, user identifiers (user ID and device ID) and usage data (product interaction and advertising data).

Data used for analysis: Location, contact information (physical and email address), contacts, audio data, search history, browser history, user identifiers (user ID and device ID), usage data (including product interaction and advertising data), crash and performance data, and other data types.

Data collected for product customization: Location, contact information (physical and email address), photos or videos, search history, browser history, user identifiers (user ID and device ID), usage data (including product interaction and advertising data) and advertising data.

Data collected for app functionality: Payment information, location, contact information (including physical address, email, name and phone number), contacts, user content (including photos or videos, audio data, customer support information), search history, browser data, user identifiers (user ID and device ID), usage data ( including product interaction and advertising data), diagnostics (crash data and performance data), plus other undefined data types.

Gmail

Data sent to advertisers (other than Google): location, user ID, and advertising data.

Data used for analysis: purchase history, location, email address, user content (including images or videos, audio data, customer support and ‘other’ content), search history, user identifiers (user ID and device ID), usage data (including product interaction and advertising data, crash data and performance data and ‘ other ‘data types.

Data used for product customization: email address, contacts, email or text messages, audio data, search history, user identifiers (user ID and device ID) and usage data.

Data collected for app functionality: purchase history, location, email and name, contacts, email or text messages, photos or videos, audio data, customer support and other user content, search history, user identifiers (user ID and device ID), product interaction, diagnostics (crash data and performance data) and other data types.

Chrome

Data used for analysis: location, audio and customer support, browsing history, user identifiers (user ID and device ID), product interaction data, diagnostics (crash data and performance data) and other data types.

Data used for product customization: location, browser log, user identifiers (user ID and device ID) and product interaction data.

Data collected for app functionality: payment information, location, audio data, customer support data, browsing history, user identifiers (user ID and device ID), product interaction, crash and performance data and other data types.

What this data means and what you can do about it

While much of the data Google collects will be used to help the company customize and target advertising to you, especially data associated with user IDs, there is also some data that will be used by Google to ensure that the apps continue to work as intended. This may include diagnostics and crash data that will tell the company why the app stopped working at different times.

Google’s rivals have been quick to point out that their apps – as shown through their own privacy labels in the App Store – do not collect nearly as much data. For example, the search engine and browser DuckDuckGo says that it does not collect data that can be connected to users. The app store shows its app which collects usage and diagnostic data, but this is marked as ‘data not related to you’.

So what can you do with data collection? In Chrome, Google’s privacy settings can help you limit what is collected about you. Here you can turn off third-party cookies that follow you online and send out requests not to be tracked online (although this setting is largely ineffective). In the settings, you can also turn off synchronization so that your browser history is not sent across all your devices.

Perhaps the biggest control you can put on what Google collects comes from the activity controls. Here you can prevent Google from saving your online activity, disabling access to your location and stopping personal ads.

All of the above will limit what Google can access to you to some degree, but it’s just a sticky cast. By using Google, you agree to collect data about you. Of course, this is the case for many of the free apps and services you use.

An alternative is not to use Google’s apps or services. While this may be beneficial for data collection and privacy, it comes with some trade-offs. Google’s vast resources mean that it has developed some of the most feature-rich and well-functioning services around – for example, competitors can not reproduce exactly the same results that Google produces in search.

That does not mean that it is not worth trying or making the transition to more privacy-friendly options. The easiest Google product to move from is without a doubt Chrome. There are a number of privacy browsers that restrict the collection of user data and stop advertising to track you online. Our favorites include Brave, DuckDuckGo, Tor and Firefox Focus.

Moving away from Gmail is more difficult since there are not that many well-developed competitors. Switzerland-based ProtonMail, which uses end-to-end encryption for messaging, is the most important Gmail option to consider.

Matt Burgess is WIRED’s Deputy Digital Editor. He tweets from @ mattburgess1

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