April 24, 2018
by Dave Avran
WHILE facebook may be in the news for spying on us and harvesting our data, it is actually Google which knows everything, and I do mean everything on us.
Google collects way more information on every individual that uses it than any other internet based service provider.
You should certainly be uncomfortable with this news. A large part of the search giant’s business model is based around advertising – and for this to be successful it needs to know who you are.
Fortunately there are alternatives, but are they really any different?
According to the Informatics Society in Germany, there’s no such thing as a free search. Internet search engines are in the business of making money, and they do this in two ways.
First, there’s the traditional ‘pay per click’ model, where companies pay the search engine operator to see their advert appear above the search results. In addition to the classic web search, many search engines offer the option to search specific categories such as images, videos or news.
Some also offer other services such as maps, online storage, shopping and e-mail accounts. All the data from these services can be merged together to create a personal profile.
The profiles of individual users are as unique as fingerprints. They include details such as location, age and interests, and can be used to influence the search results shown to a user.
Information on individuals can be collected when they’re logged in, but also through IP addresses, cookies and gps. You cannot predict what your data will be used for in the future.
Google is famously known for its comprehensive search results, but its competitors also have their strengths.
Microsoft-owned Bing has better filtering options for image searches. Video searches on Bing work better, because you can preview the video by moving the mouse over it. Yahoo also uses Bing’s search engine.
There are ways to access the benefits of Google without giving it any of your data. Startpage, for example, offers Google search results with complete privacy protection. The search queries entered are anonymously forwarded to Google so that the user sees Google results without actually having to use Google.
Startpage doesn’t create user profiles or save data, and earns its income through non-personalised advertising.
Other ways to search anonymously include the DuckDuckGo, Qwant and Metager search engines.
However, there are downsides if you value privacy when carrying out Internet searches.
In general, privacy-minded search engines have the disadvantage that the search results are not as accurate for the user.
Ultimately, users have to weigh and consider what’s more important for them – comfort and functionality or data protection.
For those who value the quality of their search results, do regularly clear out your cookies, and switch often between different search engines. This prevents detailed profiles of users from being created.
It could also help to use a search engine headquartered in Europe, as there are stricter data protection rules there.
Google has also been keeping tabs on your location. Google’s location history, or timeline page, serves up a Google Map and allows you to select specific dates and times and see where you were.
Its accuracy depends on whether you were signed into your Google account and carrying a phone or tablet at the time.
How to delete it – go to your timeline page and hit the settings cog in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen and select delete all from there.
If you want to stop Google tracking your searches for good, head to the activity controls page and toggle tracking to off.