How Google Collects Data About You and the Internet

Google, perhaps more than any other company has realized that information is power. Information about the Internet, information about innumerable trends, and information about its users—YOU.

So how much does Google know about you and your online habits? It’s only when you sit down and actually start listing all of the various Google services you use on a regular basis that you begin to realize how much information you’re handing over to Google.

Let’s have a look at how Google is gathering information from you, and about you.

Google’s Information-Gathering Channels

The stated mission of Google is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” and it’s making good on this promise. However, Google is gathering even more information than most of us realize.


    • Searches (web, images, news, blogs, etc.) – Google is, as you all know, the most popular search engine in the world, with a market share of around 92% as of February 2019 according to StatCounter (for example, 88% of searches in the U.S. are made on Google). Google tracks all searches, and now with search becoming more and more personalized, this information is bound to grow increasingly detailed and user-specific.


    • Clicks on search results – Not only does Google get information on what we search for, but it also gets to find out which search results we click on. Additionally, it knows the relation between clicks and impressions (click-through-rate, or CTR) for all search results, and may use CTR for search rankings. The result is that often-clicked websites get higher in the search results.


    • Web crawling – Googlebot, the Google web crawler, is a busy bee, continuously reading and indexing billions of web pages.


    • Website analytics – Google Analytics is by far the most popular website analytics package out there. Since it’s free and still supports a number of advanced features, it’s used by a large percentage of the world’s websites.


    • Ad serving – Google Ads (known as Google AdWords until July 2018) and Google AdSense are cornerstones of Google’s financial success, but they also provide Google with much valuable data. Which ads are people clicking on, which keywords are advertisers bidding on, and which ones are worth the most? All of this is useful information.


    • Email – Gmail is one of the three largest email services in the world, together with competing options from Microsoft (Outlook) and Yahoo. Interestingly, email content, both sent and received, is parsed and analyzed not just by Google itself, but also by third-party apps.


    • G Suite (Docs, Sheets, Slides, Calendar, Drive, etc.) – The Google office suite has many users and is, of course, a valuable data source to Google.


    • Google Public DNS – The Google DNS service doesn’t just help people get fast DNS lookups; it helps Google too, because it can get a ton of statistics from this, such as which websites people access.


    • Google Chrome – What is your web browsing behavior? What sites do you visit? Google has access to everything related to web browsing through the massive Chrome’s user base. According to Statista, as of August 2018, several versions of the Chrome Browser (including mobile and desktop) had around 55% market share globally.


    • Android OS – The world’s most used mobile OS is an immense source of data that Google has access to.


    • Google Pixel – Google launched its line of Android-based smartphones back in 2016. The most recent model is the highly-praised Google Pixel 3 released in October 2018.



    • Chrome OS – While not nearly as successful as the Android OS, Chrome OS-based laptops, aka Chromebooks, are available in many corners of the globe.


    • Google Finance – Aside from the finance data itself, what users search for and use on Google Finance is sure to be valuable data to Google.


    • YouTube – The world’s largest and most popular video site by far is, as you know, owned by Google. It gives Google a huge amount of information about its users’ viewing habits.


    • Google Translate – This helps Google perfect its natural language parsing and translation.


    • Google Books – Not huge for now, but it has the potential to help Google figure out what people are reading and want to read.


    • Google Flights – Launched in 2011, Google Flights is a search service where users can find and book airline tickets through third-party providers.


    • Google Maps and Google Earth – What parts of the world are you interested in?


    • Your contact network – Your contacts in Google Meet, Gmail, YouTube, etc., make up an intricate network of users. And if those contacts also use Google, the network can be mapped even further. We don’t know if Google does this, but the data is there for the taking.


And the list could go on since there are even more Google products out there, but we think by now you’ve gotten the gist of it.

Much of this data is anonymized, but not always right away. Advertising data in server logs is kept for nine months, and cookies (for services that use them) aren’t anonymized until after 18 months. Even after that, the sheer amount of generic user data Google has on its hands is a huge competitive advantage against most other companies—a veritable gold mine.

The Unstoppable Data Collection Machine

There are many different aspects of the Google data collection. The IP addresses requests are made from are logged, cookies are used for settings and tracking purposes, and if you are logged into your Google account, what you do on Google-owned sites can often be coupled to you personally, not just your computer.

In short, if you use Google services, Google will know what you’re searching for, which websites you visit, what news and blog posts you read, and more. As Google adds more services and its presence gets increasingly widespread, the so-called Googlization (a term coined by John Batelle and Alex Salkever in 2003) of almost everything continues.

The information you give to any single one of the Google services wouldn’t be much to huff about. The really interesting dilemma comes when you use multiple Google services, and these days, who doesn’t?

Try using the internet for a week without touching a single Google services. This means no YouTube, no Gmail, no Google Docs, no Google search, and so on.

Why Does Google Do This?

As we stated in the very first sentence of this article, information is power.

With all this information at its fingertips, Google can group data together in very useful ways, and not just per user or visitor. Google can also examine trends and behaviors for entire cities or countries.

Google can use the information it collects for a wide array of useful things. In all the various fields where Google is active, it can make market decisions, research, refine its products, anything, with the help of this collected data.

For example, if you can discover certain market trends early, you can react effectively to the market. You can discover what people are looking for, what people want, and make decisions based on those discoveries. This is, of course, extremely useful to a large company like Google.

And let’s not forget, Google earns much of its money serving ads. The more Google knows about you, the more effectively it will be able to serve ads to you, which has a direct effect on Google’s bottom line.

Accessing the Google Data Vault

To its credit, Google is making some of its enormous cache of data available to you as well via various services.


If Google can make that much data publicly available, just imagine the amount of data and level of detail Google can get access to internally. And ironically, these services give Google even more data, such as which trends we are interested in, what sites we are trying to find information about, and so on.

No Free Lunch

Did you ever wonder why almost all of Google’s services are free of charge? Well, now you know. That old saying, “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” still holds true. You may not be paying Google with dollars (aside from clicking on those Google ads), but you are paying with information. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but you should be aware of it.

Note: This article first appeared on this blog back in 2010, and we have touched up the data since.


  1. There is an easy solution to prevent googls harvesting your data:
    1. Use Adblockplus and no script on Firefox.
    2. Do not create a Google account and use Gmail. Use your ISP or Yahoo mail or Hotmail.
    3. Do not buy an Android phone. Buy the iPhone, a Blackberry (but only if e-mail is your top priority), HTC HD2, or Nokia N900 (maemo), Nokia E71, Nokia N97, Nokia 5800.
    4. Do not even consider a Chrome OS PC. Buy a Windows 7 PC if you want the most choice and best value. Buy a Mac if you are a poser or you can afford one. Install Fedora, Ubuntu or Suse only if you are a ubergeek.
    5. Do not use Google Apps. It is shit plus Google mine your data.
    If you want online Apps try Office Live, Zoho and Thinkfree. Or just use Microsoft Office, iWork, Openoffice whatever on the hard drive.
    6. If you use Google search which I do as about 80 of you do then make sure you do not have a Google Account or just delete your existing Google Account. The point of Gmail and now Calender and Apps is to force you to sign up for a Google Account and make it harder for you to migrate to a different search engine when one eventually comes along.
    7. In conclusion only use Google Search and Youtube but don’t sign in.

  2. On #6 in James’ comment – to avoid Google Search, you can substitute Ixquick search – it doesn’t store any IP data.

    Also, don’t forget…if you use…it’s Google.

  3. Nice article but… the bit populistic “big brother is watching you” and the overworked metaphor of an “octopus” could imply that there’s something that we should be afraid of. So:

    What else would Google actually DO (so not COULD do, but DO) with aaaaaaalllll that information about you? They use it to make money on trend reports and advertising… but what else?

    Why is Google offering something as The Data Liberation Front? Goal: “Users should be able to control the data they store in any of Google’s products. Our team’s goal is to make it easier to move data in and out.”

    You may visit the FAQ at and the corresponding blog at and read more on Data Liberation.

    Of course, when Google would misuse our information (as in “insider trading”) they should be brought to their knees. But I don’t think they would do such a thing. Why Open Source, Open Standards and Data Liberation? And, why throw away a good reputation?

    Another quote from CEO Eric Schmidt:

    “How do you be big without being evil? We don’t trap end users. So if you don’t like Google, if for whatever reason we do a bad job for you, we make it easy for you to move to our competitor.”

    Google wants to become the number one choice in Cloud Computing for the Enterprise. There’s a billion dollar market at there fingertips and they have all the tools in place (hardware and software). They have to be a dependable, secure, rock solid… etcetera… 200% reliable partner.

    As long as Google can make a good profit on ‘scanning’ and using my “raw data” and surfing behavior for minimal adverts (no popups, screaming banners or spam email) and market reports than that’s fine with me. Or, use it to provide a virus and spam free platform for their (business) users, thats of course is fine too.

    As long as Google uses me for beta testing release candidates of ‘free’ products and services than that’s also fine with me. Otherwise I also could pay 50 dollars a year for using the full Google Apps Premium platform.

    Just my 2 cents…

  4. Ditto James Foster very much *and* Marah Marie! (Avoid GOOG, but remember GOOG search tracking is opt-in by default). Choose another SE on all yer browsers. Install Glims on Safari so’s you can get another SE there, too. Use yauba or (note, *not* which is a porn site) for safe search.

    It’s blamed hard to get an online email service. The safest is to get yer own domain and either use webmail via cpanel or download to yer laptop via pop or imap. Yahoo! “promises” in TOS not to scan your email for targeted advertising, BUT Yahoo! recently acquired xoopit for email image processing, and xoopit TOS do *not* make such a promise!

    So, while it would be nice to have online services provide the same sort of privacy as we expect from the mail we transmit via USPS, the truth is still, “never post online anything you wouldn’t be willing to see displayed on a public billboard.”

  5. You showed your hand by including Apps and Finance in your list, and by your comments included with the inclusion of Contacts. While it is true that those are stored on Google’s servers and run Google’s software, NONE of the data in any of those services is available to Google, neither through programming nor human snooping. In addition, the contents of Gmail messages are simply parsed for ad correlation, so the only data being mined in that app is the same as what is being mined in the search engine: word popularity and ad serving/clicks. And if you believe that your Contact List would be available to Google in any form, you need a bigger tin foil hat. The information in all of those sections is very strictly kept private, and only a court order could be successful in revealing their contents, and then only to law enforcement in pursuit of a specific goal, never to Google.

    Let’s talk about the access your operating system manufacturer has to your personal stuff, shall we? It puts whatever Google might be able to put together on you to shame, because it doesn’t care whether you use Google or not. Every mouse click, every keystroke, every password … all available to the operating system. What? You say that I have no proof that Microsoft is checking in on my activities? Ignoring “Automatic Updates” and “Windows Authenticity Verification”, your claims about Google hold even less water.

    Let’s talk about the phone companies, shall we? Every time you pick up the phone and call someone, they don’t even need to inform you that your call is being spied on! It’s the law of the land!

    So before you get all hot and bothered by the data mining that Google is doing on your searches and whatnot, try to keep it real and remind yourself that with very few exceptions, EVERYTHING you do and EVERYWHERE you go, you are being shadowed by some company or another. If not Google, then AT&T, Microsoft or the U.S. Government. It’s all part of the fun of living in the 21st Century. Get over it.

  6. i have to disagree with all of your points.

    1-7 You give your information to Google in exchange for free services like web search and email. and every search engine does the same things.

    Chrome OS is only available for specific netbook. read

    and buying a pc with windows7 bundled might not be a wise choice. please consider viruses and malwares.

    Google Docs is a pioneer for cloud computing, even microsoft office 2010 will have this feature. read

  7. The article leaves out (or I missed it) reference to Google’s new privacy dashboard, which permits disabling a lot of the data collection. Use Google to find it. Personally, I find some Google services irresistible, so I silo their use in the very fast Chrome browser, while using FireFox with security extensions as default browser for other services in personal email, banking, etc. In that way Google gets to know only what I use Google’s own services for, as it would anyway.

  8. I for one welcome our new google overlords.

    I read what you say, and it all makes sense – it is not some conspiracy theory, but for some reason I feel comfortable with google whereas I have serious worries over microsoft and facebook.

    Whether it is their support for open source, open web standards or just the fact that they are pretty upfront about their model of being an advertising company that gives everything else away, for some irrational reason I gave my digital life over to them.

    Fear of the HD ticking in the background drove me away from Windows to Linux many years ago; what is it doing? Is it phoning home or just a virus? I should feel the same about google but I don’t

    I guess it is because I know google doesn’t care about me just about trends on a large scale, where MS is looking for DRM licences on my disk etc

  9. Google’s split personality is showing:

    Google of old had a persona of “do no harm” the new persona is now one of “I want control”


    Google now seems to be using its following to collect cell phone numbers.

    Recently I needed to access my Google maps and found that I needed a gmail account. When I tried to get one I found that I had to give them a cell phone number for texting me the access.

    Well, I don’t have a cell phone with texting capibilities and wouldn’t give the number to anyone if I did. The suggested work around of using a friends phone was even worse. I wouldn’t give even my best friend (and Google isn’t one) access to my personal information.

    I couldn’t even give any feedback to Goggle because the only way to contact them seems to be via a Google group and you guessed it, you need a gmail account to participate.

    I may be suffering from paranoia but why, other than for some yet to be defined commercial exploitation, would Google want my personal information.

    I guess Google is taking the attitude that there is no more free lunch (as is their right to) with out giving them a marketing channel direct to your phone.

    I will not be using Google for any services unless I can get my investment in My Maps back.

    Sorry Google: You can’t have my “EVERYTHING”

  10. “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

    Welcome to the “Brave New World” in which freedom and choice have become quaint relecs of past democratic idealist. Big brother has been watching for decades.

  11. Really good and important article. It’s nice to see such a broad number of views and thoughtful responses. I’m heartened to see folks take this seriously.

    My two cents: We should not be afraid of these technologies, but we MUST pay attention.

    I’m a big Google user. And I watch these matters carefully. I realized many years ago that tracking and data mining are wide-spread, unstoppable, and potentially dangerous. I’m particularly worried about ending up on watch lists by accident with no knowledgeable human intervention.

    Google was the first player (I’m aware of) to address these concerns head-on and openly. Therefore I support Google as a model of good practice in a world of far more nefarious players. But I also realize we must watch them carefully.

    Google certainly is not Little Red Riding Hood. But I don’t see them as ‘the wolf’ either. They do at least maintain some humanity in potentially damaging processes that machines are all too often allowed to run without human oversight.

    It’s up to each and every individual citizen to stay informed. And we must also undertake to enlighten our friends and family to today’s common practices and the potential dangers of ‘blind faith’ in the system. Not to scare anyone, but to open their eyes to the reality of life in cyberspace.

    Thanks again for the clear and concise report.


  12. It’s time to wake up and stop publishing private data on the web.
    This behaviour has to be populated so that noone will collect users private unwittingly.

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