“We may analyze [email] content to customize search results, better detect spam and malware,” he added.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Google says it is also leverages some of its datasets to “help build the next generation of ground-breaking artificial intelligence solutions.” On Tuesday, Google rolled out “Smart Replies,” in which artificial intelligence helps users finish sentences.
The extent of the information Google has can be eyebrow-raising even for technology professionals. Dylan Curran, an information technology consultant, recently downloaded everything Facebook had on him and got a 600-megabyte file. When he downloaded the same kind of file from Google, it was 5.5 gigabytes, about nine times as large. His tweets highlighting each kind of information Google had on him, and therefore other users, got nearly 170,000 retweets.
“This is one of the craziest things about the modern age, we would never let the government or a corporation put cameras/microphones in our homes or location trackers on us, but we just went ahead and did it ourselves because … I want to watch cute dog videos,” Curran wrote.
What does Google guarantee?
The company has installed various guardrails against this data being misused. It says it doesn’t sell your personal information, makes user data anonymous after 18 months, and offers tools for users to delete their recorded data piece by piece or in its (almost) entirety, and to limit how they’re being tracked and targeted for advertising. And it doesn’t allow marketers to target users based on sensitive categories like beliefs, sexual interests or personal hardships.
However, that doesn’t prevent the company from selling advertising slots that can be narrowed to a user’s ZIP code. Combined with enough other categories of interest and behavior, Google advertisers can create a fairly tight Venn diagram of potential viewers of a marketing message, with a minimum of 100 people.
“They collect everything they can, as a culture,” Scott Cleland, chairman of NetCompetition, an advocacy group that counts Comcast and other cable companies among its members, told NBC News. “They know they’ll find some use for it.”
What can you do about it?
Users can see and limit the data Google collects on them by changing their advertising preferences through an online dashboard.
The internet giant offers fine-tune controls to opt out of tracking via Google’s advertising cookie, as well as limiting whether you’ll see targeted ads based on your interest groups and categories. You can also see and delete many of the personal tracking data about yourself, including your entire search history and any geolocation data that may have been tracking your every physical movement if you were signed into Google services on your phone.
“We give users controls to delete individual items, services or their entire account,” said Google’s Stein. “When a user decides to delete data, we go through a process over time to safely and completely remove it from our systems, including backups. We keep some data with a user’s Google Account, like when and how they use certain features, until the account is deleted.”