Book Chapters 

Does Google Read our App Conversations Too?

Courtesy:Quora

Here's a story I wouldn’t believe if it didn't happen to me. Google knew I was going to break up with my girl-friend a month before I did.

About 5 years ago I was dating a women. In-fact we lived together along with her son from the previous marriage. I was happy (I thought). I was looking to settle down so was about to propose. I asked her father for permission, had saved for a down payment on a ring and a Christmas proposal seemed eminent.

Then one day all of a sudden Google's ads for wedding rings were replaced with ads for Ashley Madison, Tinder, porn and dating sites. I felt weird as hadn't searched for these things. It must be about my conversations with friends. I'm not sure if it was what I said or the way I said it but Google somehow knew I wasn't happy. Other than constantly accusing me of being unfaithful (I went to work every morning and came straight home every evening) I was with her every moment. I had selected a ring but just couldn't pull the trigger. 

After searching my feelings and taking a moment to ask myself “Why her?” I realized I wasn't in love with her and there was someone else who I had more intense feelings for. The other woman was more than just a string of desirable qualities. She had her own business she built from scratch. She stimulated my mind and body. 

Google knowing that I wasn’t happy wasn’t the direct cause of the relationship failing, but it probably saved me from getting a diamond ring that was never going to be worn by her. There have been a few other instances where Google proved it knew more about me than I did about myself, but this was the most extreme example.
 

Does Google Track our Devices?

Google stores the device information like IMEI, mobile model etc. To see the details, navigate to https://myaccount.google.com/dashboard and click on the Android tab.

Everything Else that Google Knows about Us:
 

Other data with Google depends on the apps and services used. For example, if you use Google pay, then Google has your financial information, if you use Google Calendar it has your schedule etc. 

Google productInformation gathered
GmailContacts, all personal information gathered from the mail conversations.
Google PhotosFacial features, close relatives/friends, favourite places, places visited etc.
Google MapsHome and work address, places visited, routes etc.
Google DriveImportant documents, books etc.
Google FitHealth record, fitness levels. 
AndroidAll the phone information.
Google PlayAll apps used till date
YouTubeWatch history, favourites etc.
Google HangoutContacts, conversation records etc.

There’s a pattern here: 
For all the Google products (Hangouts, Drive, etc) you can expect the same level of tracking - anything they can track, they will. In fact, even when you forbid tracking, Google doesn’t really listen, e.g., location history.

How to Download the Personal Information Stored in the Google Accounts?
 

  1. File type: .zip
  2. Archive size (max): 50 GB. 

This avoids splitting the data into multiple files. If you choose 2GB, you will likely have multiple zip files. However, if you have an older computer, choose 2 GB since zip files larger than 2GB require newer Operating Systems.

  1. Delivery method: You can get a link via email or send archive to Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft One-Drive.
  • Tap on "Create Archive" to complete the process. 

Google then gathers all the information and sends an alert email with a link or notification to the data. You can open the files and see the data. 

Be patient. Google warns that the archive may take hours or even days to create. It took me about 10 hours and weighed over 10 GB, or 10 billion bytes. That’s equivalent to a 6 million-page text file!

Conclusion:
From facial recognition to audio recordings, Google has created a comprehensive and unnervingly correct profile about individuals. Today on this planet, Google knows the most about us, which raises serious privacy concerns. Thus, readers are advised to implement the solutions discussed in the various chapters of the book to control access to their personal information.

 

Chapter 7: How to Undo Google Tracking:
 

"People are very reluctant to talk about their private lives but then you go to the internet and they're much more open".
-    Paulo Coelho, Brazillian novelist & thinker 

Google sells our most private data openly to the highest bidders. So long term and better solution lies in using alternative platforms to Google like Duck-duck-go search engine, Firefox browser etc. However, some of us have become so habituated to Google products that we refuse to shift, despite the issues. This chapter tries to explore solutions for such stubborn users. 

How to Modify Ads Settings?
Google’s revenue is advertisements based. So, we shall target it first: 

How to Stop “Add Personalization”? 

  • Navigate to https://google.com/history/
  • Tap on ‘Activity Controls’ option and scroll down to the bottom 
  • Click on “Ads” under “Related settings” and tap on blue pill-shaped icon. Ignore the Google warning and click on “Turn off” to complete the process.

How to Disable Location Tracking?
 

Google tracks our location every-time and every-where. To prevent this:

  • Open the phone “Settings” and tap on “Privacy” or “Privacy and Safety” option (depending on the phone).
  • Tap on “Location” option and disable both “Google Location History” and “Google Location Sharing”. 

Google Fact:
Even with both the “Location History” and “Location Sharing” paused or turned off, some Google apps store time-stamped location data automatically, without informing or asking users. For example, when we open the Google Maps app, Google stores a snapshot of the place!

The above step only disables the phone from storing the location history, not the Google accounts. If the user subsequently browses the internet from any other device (while signed-in to any of the Google product) then Google stores the location data. So, we must also disable “Web & App activity” which includes “Map activity”. 

By default, “Web & App Activity” settings are on, to turn it off: 

  1. Sign-in to any of the Google product like Gmail 
  2. Navigate to https://google.com/history/ 
  3. Tap on “Activity Controls” option (5th position in left hand navigation clicks) 

 

Tap on “Web and App activity” setting 

  • Tap the slider to try toggle it off
  • Ignore the Google’s warning and click on “pause” to complete the process 

Similarly, we must pause the “Location History” activity:

  • After tapping “Activity Controls”, scroll down the page to locate the “Location History”.
  • Tap on the slider, to try to toggle it off. 

Google warns that - “Pausing Location History may limit or disable personalized experiences across Google services. For example, you may not see recommendations based on places you've visited or helpful tips about your commute”. 

  • Ignore it and tap on “pause” to complete the process. 

Now, location information will not be saved in the Google account. 

If you were reading the warning carefully, you might have noticed this: 

“This setting does not affect other location services on your device, like Google Location Services and Find My Device. Your location may still be saved in your Google Account when using other Google sites, apps and services”.

This is what we were discussing in the previous chapter. We can never fully stop Google from tracking us. Google tracks us no matter what we do! However, above customizations on the phone and Google accounts, will ensure maximum protection from tracking by Google.

How to Disable Voice Tracking?

Revoke Google’s Access to Microphone:
To deny “Google’s” access to microphone:

  • Open phone’s “Settings” and tap on “Apps & notifications” or “Permissions” (depending on the phone).
  • Tap the slider next to Google and Google products, to toggle it off. 

We recommend “Microphone” or any other “Permissions” to the least number of apps possible. 

Don’t Use the Phone’s Voice Search:
Google also records our “Voice search”. So, you should avoid this feature or use it minimally. At least, don’t search any personal information using the “Voice Search” feature. 

To complete the other half of the process, after tapping on Activity Controls, locate “Voice and Audio” activity. Tap on the slider, to try to toggle it off. Then, ignore the Google warning as usual and click on “Pause” to complete the process. 

Now, “Voice and audio” activity information will not be saved in the Google account. 

How to Prevent Further Accumulation of Information?
 

To Prevent Additional Profiling: 

  1. Web and App activity
  2. Location History
  3. Voice and Audio activity
  4. Device Information
  5. YouTube Search History
  6. YouTube Watch History  

Tap on the slider to toggle “each of these individual activities” off. Ignore the Google’s warning at every step and “pause” the activities.

The photo above shows how the “Device Information” should look like after the desired configuration. It should be similar for “YouTube Search History” and “YouTube Watch History”

How to Delete Old Personal Records?
 

In this Section, we shall learn how to delete the already gathered information. 

How to Delete Web & App Records?
You can see “My Activity” page using the following URLs: 
https://myactivity.google.com/myactivityor 
https://www.google.com/history

Now, to delete the previous “Web and App” records:

  • Tap on “Delete activity by” (3rd position in the left hand navigation clicks). 
  • You shall find a drop-down arrow for the option “Delete by date”. 
  • Tap on the arrow, and choose “All time” as shown in the figure below.

 
Click on “delete” to complete the process. 

Now onwards, sign-out of the Gmail account before browsing the internet

Google Analytics Opt-out Add-on and Internet Noise:

Google Analytics helps publishers gather visitor’s information like pages viewed, duration etc. We should opt out of Google Analytics by adding the below extension.

URL: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/google-analytics-opt-out/fllaojicojecljbmefodhfapmkghcbnh/related?hl=en-GB

How To Trick Google & ISP?
A way to mislead Google and Internet Service Providers is through “fake browsing”. 

Browser then loads random sites in different tabs, to fill the Google’s database with noise. You should leave it running and quit only after the browsing is over.