Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

For all the many controversies around Facebook's mishandling of personal data, Google actually knows way more about most of us.

The bottom line: Just how much Google knows depends to some degree on your privacy settings — and to a larger degree on which devices, products and services you use.

Google is the undisputed leader in the tech giants' race to accumulate user data, thanks to its huge array of services, devices and leading share of the digital ad business (37% to Facebook's 22%). It likely knows everything you've ever typed into your browser’s search bar and every YouTube video you’ve ever watched.

  • But that's just the beginning. It may also know where you've been, what you've bought and who you communicate with.

What Google collects:

  • The terms you search for.
  • The videos you watch.
  • Voice and audio information when you use audio features.
  • Purchase activity.
  • People with whom you communicate or share content.
  • Activity on third-party sites and apps that use Google services.
  • The ads and content you view on Google's sites, as well as interactions with that content.
  • Chrome browsing history you've synced with your Google Account.
  • Location data, which Google can either gather directly via GPS data or infer from other sensors and data, including IP addresses, nearby Wi-Fi routers and Bluetooth beacons.

What Google doesn't collect:

  • Google Docs data from business customers who use the paid enterprise version.
  • Internet traffic from its Google Wi-Fi home routers.
  • The company used to use the content of emails in Gmail to choose ads to display, but it no longer does so, saying its other data is more efficient.

The big picture: Google isn't just its namesake search service. It also gets lots of data from its Chrome browser, as well as from YouTube, devices running its Android operating system, the Google Assistant, and Google Maps, along with hardware products like Nest and Google Home.

  • Even those who don't actively choose Google's services still probably have a fair amount of information landing on its servers. It's a huge player in digital advertising, with widely used tools for serving ads and providing analytics.
  • Google's privacy policy (which you probably haven't read) offers a good overview of its practices, while a separate tool allows users to see what information the company has been collecting.

Between the lines: A study last year by Vanderbilt University's Douglas Schmidt found that Google and Chrome are sending plenty of data to Google even without any user action, including location data (assuming a user hasn't chosen not to share such information). And nearly half the data came from people's interaction with Google's services for advertisers, as opposed to consumers directly choosing to use a Google service.

  • Google challenged some of the study's points and highlighted some new privacy tools, but Schmidt says his key findings remain the same.
  • "You can fiddle around with a few knobs and make yourself feel better," Schmidt tells Axios. "I don't think much has changed."
Location, location, location

Location data raises some of the thorniest issues for Google users.

  • Letting Google track your location can help it learn where you work and live, predict when you need to leave the house and even tell you when you need an umbrella.
  • At the same time, such data hands Google a picture of our lives so incredibly detailed that it will make many people uncomfortable.
  • That picture will only grow in scope as Google expands the array of hardware products, from Nest cameras and thermostats to Google Home Hub and Pixel, that point more cameras and microphones at your life.
What else?

In addition to everything Google collects via its services, Google search aims to be a repository for all the world's information. That means there's a mountain of information accessible on Google because someone, somewhere in the world has put it online.

  • If embarrassing pictures from your high school yearbook or information about your DUI is posted online, Google will help people find it. (An exception is for those in Europe, where the "right to be forgotten" lets people request certain info be removed.)
What can you do?

There's a fair amount you can do to at least limit what Google knows about you.

  • You can use another search engine, like Microsoft's Bing or the even more privacy-centric Duck Duck Go.
  • Choosing an iPhone alone won’t get you out of Google's grasp. Google pays Apple billions of dollars each year to be the default search engine on the iPhone, iPad and Mac. You can change that default, but relatively few people do.
  • On the browser front, you can choose to use Firefox or Safari, or also use Google's Chrome in private browsing mode, or choose something like the privacy-oriented Brave.
  • You can choose not to stay signed in to your Google account when using its services. Outside of just not using Google products, this is probably the single biggest step you can take to hide yourself from the company — but it means you will need to log back in every time you want to, say, check a Gmail account or read a Google Doc.
  • And you can go here to see what Google does know about you. Just make sure you are signed in (and check all your accounts if you have more than one).
  • You can also clear your Google history, something Facebook has promised users but has yet to deliver. Clearing your history means Google won't use the information to personalize your Google experience. Deleting it is another matter.

Whatever steps you take, it can be incredibly tough to block out Google entirely, even if you want to, as Gizmodo's Kashmir Hill found, because Google's services power so many others. If you really wanted to shut out Google, you'd also have to give up Uber, Lyft and Spotify.

What's next: Today, Google uses its vast trove of data mostly to target ads at us. Increasingly, it will apply the same resource to powering and optimizing the artificial-intelligence-based services that it and its rivals are building.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

In photos: Deadly Cyclone Tauktae leaves trail of destruction across India

A police officer helps a public transport driver cross a flooded street due to heavy rain caused by Tropical Cyclone Tauktae in Mumbai, India, on May 17. Photo: Ashish Vaishnav/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Tropical Cyclone Tauktae killed at least 16 people in India after making landfall in Gujarat Monday, packing 100mph winds, and sweeping across Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, per Reuters.

The big picture: The storm unleashed heavy rains and winds as authorities continued to grapple with surging infection rates and deaths from COVID-19. Over 200,000 people were evacuated from Gujarat, and ports, airports and vaccination centers shut in the state and Mumbai, Reuters reports. Tauktae weakened from a Category 3 storm into a "severe cyclonic storm" Tuesday morning local time.

4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Yellen wants business to help foot infrastructure bill

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is heading into the belly of the beast Tuesday and asking the business community to support President Biden's $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan during a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Why it matters: By trying to persuade a skeptical and targeted audience, Yellen is signaling the president’s commitment to raising corporate taxes to pay for his plan. Republican senators, critical to a potential bipartisan deal, oppose any corporate tax increase.

4 hours ago - World

Schumer's Israel vise

Sen. Chuck Schumer addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March 2014. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's longtime support for Israel puts him on a collision course with the progressive wing of his party as the conflict between Israel and Hamas worsens.

Why it matters: This is the toughest political position the New York Democrat has been in since becoming majority leader. The fighting in the Middle East is dividing his party — and creating a clear rift among its different wings.

You’ve caught up. Now what?

Sign up for Mike Allen’s daily Axios AM and PM newsletters to get smarter, faster on the news that matters.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!