Google and Facebook are probably the most widely used websites on the Internet. Around 70% of Internet users globally use Google as their default search engine, while Facebook already has 1.5 billion users. These two Internet giants collect enormous amounts of data every day, from many different sources. And it would be naïve on our part to think that they only make use of the data we deliberately provide them with. In reality, both Google and Facebook have their own user tracking and data collection systems that go beyond our public profiles.
Google’s Data Collection Tools
Google has penetrated every sphere of people’s online activity. Just a few services that are the most wide-spread:
- Gmail – contains all the information about your contacts and the content of your letters. It is one of the most used email services, along with Yahoo and Hotmail.
- Google Docs – contains tons of information about businesses and personal projects
- Google search engine collects data from your search enquiries. It also knows, which search results you click on and how much time you spend on the search result web page.
- Youtube – Google integration allows it to know which videos you watch and for how long, knowing a lot about your preferences.
- Twitter – owned by Google, Twitter provides it with tons of user information
There are tons of other Google services, like Google Analytics, Google Finance, Google Apps, just to name a few. Have you ever thought about why all these services should be for free? The answer lies in the fact that the more services are free and of good quality, the more people across the globe will use them. And using a service means providing it with data. This way, Google possesses enormous layers of user data from every corner of the world.
How does it put it to use? In our digital era, information is power. First of all, Google makes a lot of money on advertising. In order for it to be effective, Google uses your search and other information to show you the ads that are most likely to work. The more Google knows about you, the more effective the advertising will be. Secondly, such data arrays allow Google to know about emerging market trends earlier than anybody else, with immense opportunities for competitive advantage. Thanks to this information, they can react to change much faster, and again, make more profit.
What Facebook Knows About You
With all the advantages global information can give you it would be unwise to think Facebook does not take advantage of the colossal amount of information it has access to.
Here are a few tools Facebook uses to track your activity:
- Facebook cookies allow it to track your browser information, meaning everything you read here on the Internet, even when you left the Facebook page, but did not log out.
- Facebook Connect is a plug-in that many websites use. It allows you to log in or register on that third-party website using your Facebook login and password. While this really undermines your account security, this also allows Facebook to track your third-party website activities.
- Instagram is a great tool to track location, hobbies, activities and people involved.
Facebook tracks and makes use of all of your activity inside Facebook itself. Have you ever wondered how your news feed on Facebook works the way it does? Why the news from people you have been chatting with or whose pages you’ve been browsing are displayed first, while some people’s news are not displayed at all? And why you only see ads for your local products even though you have never indicated your place of residence in your Facebook profile?
Unfortunately, Facebook makes use of all the data about your activity on the website: who you chat with in private messages, what you write about and whose pages you prefer. Moreover, it also keeps track of how much time you spend on a certain post you are reading, and how much time it takes you to view news on certain topics. Just as in the case of Google, this information is used for profit-making purposes. The more Facebook knows about people of your age and interests, the more effective advertising could be. The power of Facebook in knowing all about us is virtually unlimited.
So, what can we do with this information? To be completely honest, nothing. We are at that point in time when quitting Facebook or Google would cut us off millions of opportunities, including staying in touch with our relatives, shopping for food or finding a job. Google and Facebook own the Earth, and there is not much you can do about it.
The only precaution could be to keep private things really private. Keep your accounts free of your private pictures or data you don’t want anybody to know about, and store commercial information about your business on some hardware in your closet. In a data-driven world like ours, it is impossible to avoid being part of the data collection pool, but it is after all a natural thing for the modern era.