If you had to make a list of three people who know the most about you, who would it be? For most of us, it would include some combination of parents, spouses and best friends. After all, these are the people who spend the most time with us, have seen us through good and bad and perhaps even raised us. But, we’re all forgetting someone, or something shall we say, that knows more about us than we might know about ourselves. And no, it’s not a higher power. It’s Google.

Getting to Know Google’s Privacy Policy

Google’s privacy statement is over 2,000 words long, and in it are some very interesting bits of information. Bits of information that the average person doesn’t read. And we can’t say we blame you.

There are privacy policies for everything these days, and if you’re going to use the services, you must agree to them. And in case you haven’t noticed, it’s a little hard to get by with at least some of Google’s services in this day and age. So for practical purposes, many people accept the privacy policy and don’t look back.

Google opposers aren’t as quick to surrender. They say that the search-engine advertising giant might as well omit a privacy policy altogether or put “none” next to its description. Why? Because if you actually read through the statement, you’ll find that there isn’t much privacy at all. It’s like we’re teenagers. We want to think we have freedom and privacy, but there’s always someone watching over our shoulders.

Of course, Google has a way of sugarcoating their collection methods, stating, “We can make our services better for you when you share your information. Your privacy matters to us.” That’s a nice touch. Thanks, Google.

So what types of information does Google collect about us? How are they collecting it? What are they doing with it? Do we really have a reason to care?

The 6 Known Types of Information That Google Collects

Here are six kinds of information that Google has admitted to collecting about you and everyone else who uses their services. Let’s take a look.

1. Device Information

Google knows exactly what type of device you’re using when you check your Gmail or browse for something on the Web. But Google knows far more than just the type of device you’re using. It can gather device-specific information such as hardware model, operating system version and mobile network information.

2. Login Information

Anytime you use Google’s services to view content, it can collect and store data in the server logs. This information includes what you searched for, the phone numbers of friends that you called and the length of time you talked to them.

3. Location Information

Google has location-based services, which are handy when you’re on the go and want to be connected with local businesses. And Google loves when you use them because they can collect and process information about your location using GPS signals sent by your mobile device.

4. Unique Application Numbers

If you are someone who loves installing apps, trying them out and then uninstalling them, tread carefully. The numbers and information from the apps you install may be sent to Google when you install or uninstall the service. It may also be sent when the service contacts the company’s servers for things like automated updates.

5. Local Storage

Google may collect and store information on your device using browser web storage such as HTML5 and app data caches. They even have the right (thanks to the handy privacy policy) to collect and store “personal information.”

6. Cookies and Anonymous Identifiers

Google uses unspecified technologies when you visit a Google service, as well as when you visit one of Google’s partners. This may include sending one or two cookies or anonymous identifiers to your device when you interact with their services.

Are We Losing Control of Our Digital Privacy?

Just from these six points alone, you can tell that Google is able to collect and store just about anything they want to. You may not mind that Google has your hardware specifications or knows where you live. But isn’t it a little unsettling that every email you have ever sent or received is stored by Google? It has every chat you’ve ever had on Google Talk and records every conversation you’ve had through Google Voice.

It has your Google Calendar stored with all of your content as well as your Picasa pictures. Facebook has even more interesting stuff since it gets to store all of your pictures, comments, likes, friends (and enemies). And for sake of ending this paragraph in less than 100 pages, we’ll stop at one last thing: Google has all of your searches saved as well. So whether you searched for a medical symptom, a political idea, a recipe or a risque movie, Google knows it. Google knows you.

Google Has Violated Its Own Privacy Agreements

So what’s being done about this overly invasive capability to collect and store information? Not a whole lot. Unless it involves money. There have been a handful of fines that Google has had to pay out over the years.

In August 2012, the Federal Trade Commission fined Google $22.5 million, noting that it had violated previous privacy agreements. This was the largest civil fine for Google so far. In May 2013, Google agreed to pay another $7 million after a three-year investigation found that it had collected private data from home and business networks. And most recently, Google faces another privacy breach where they could be fined up to $18.6 million if it doesn’t stop invading the privacy of Netherlands users.

So Is Google the Bad Guy in All of This?

It’s obvious that Google doesn’t just get away with its invasive approach to privacy, but the demand to change isn’t there. Google owns trillions of bytes of information, and they use this information to sell ads, create their own products and build a better Web experience for users. And indeed they have.

There’s no denying that Google has made our lives easier. More efficient. More exciting. More connected. Google has improved the way we work, play and communicate. And realistically, in order to accomplish some of these advances, they do have to take a peek at the consumer. Sure, they can ask questions and take polls, but it’s much more exciting when Google can watch people in action and truly understand how the Web is used.

But, it’s also a bit unsettling that Google is profiting from our private information that many of us wouldn’t be so apt to sharing if we had a choice (or even read through the 2,000+ word privacy policy). The only way that we can really make a difference in how Google (and other companies) collect, store and use our information is by making certain practices illegal at the government level.

5 Steps to Protect Yourself from Google Invasion

In the meantime, there are a few things you can do to better protect yourself if you are concerned with your digital privacy. We recommend the following five steps.

  1. View your Google Account History to control the collection of information.

  2. Use Google Dashboard to review and control the types of information tied to your account.

  3. View and edit preferences about the ads you see using the Ads settings.

  4. Adjust your profile settings to change how your profile appears to others.

  5. Set your browser to block cookies associated with Google services.

The next time you feel like no one in the world understands you, just remember, you always have one friend who knows you: Google.