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Is Google Tracking You Everywhere? Company Answers Most Asked Privacy Concerns

The new Google blog post claims to answer some of the most asked questions around privacy, by users. (Image: Reuters)

The new Google blog post claims to answer some of the most asked questions around privacy, by users. (Image: Reuters)

Google tracking users have created various privacy and regulatory concerns, and the company has now taken a fresh attempt to answer the most asked privacy concerns.

Is Google tracking you everywhere on the web? If you go around asking this question to most users as a public poll, chances are that most users would underline how they do believe so. Over the past few years, continuous and persistent pressure from privacy advocates, communities and regulators have caused tech companies to cover their tracks with more urgency, while increasing marketing efforts to claim that they are serious about protecting the privacy of users. Mainstream services from the likes of Facebook and Google have faced intense scrutiny for collecting a wide range of user data, analysing and categorising them to offer as a commodity for advertisers, and even allow third party, contracted humans to listen to snippets of recorded audio – from conversations where users may not have even realised that they were being recorded.

Of late, Google, one of the most vociferously accused companies in terms of user privacy, has attempted to tell users that they care. It has introduced more accessible controls for users to turn off location and internet histories with the company, offered a toggle for Android users to actually anonymise your data and stop companies from accessing it, promised an end to third party cookie tracking, and even introduced steps such as Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). The latter, though, has received considerable backlash as well, with privacy communities calling out Google for making user tracking even more emphatic, and monopolising the market too, while at it. With all of this and the biggest anti-competition investigation pending for Google, it has now published an FAQ sheet of sorts, listing down what it claims are the “most asked” privacy questions – and its answers to them. Here’s what they want users to know.

*Editor’s note: The below questions and answers were all published in a Google blog post, and represent Google’s view of privacy concerns. News18 neither affirms and nor denies the below answers given by Google, and users must apply their own discretion. To read our exhaustive coverage on data privacy and related concerns, click here.

Also Read: Explained | Google Privacy, Advertising and Their Claims of Not Tracking You Online

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Is Google Assistant recording everything I say?

No, it isn’t. Google Assistant is designed to wait in standby mode until it is activated, like when you say, “Hey Google" or “Ok Google". In standby mode, it processes short snippets of audio (a few seconds) to detect an activation (such as “Ok Google”). If no activation is detected, then those audio snippets won’t be sent or saved to Google. When an activation is detected, the Assistant comes out of standby mode to fulfill your request. The status indicator on your device lets you know when the Assistant is activated. And when it’s in standby mode, the Assistant won’t send what you are saying to Google or anyone else. To help keep you in control, we’re constantly working to make the Assistant better at reducing unintended activations.

To better tailor Google Assistant to your environment, you can now adjust how sensitive your Assistant is to the activation phrase (like ‘Hey Google’) through the Google Home app for smart speakers and smart displays. We also provide controls to turn off cameras and mics, and when they’re active we’ll provide a clear visual indicator (like flashing dots on top of your device).

Deleting your Google Assistant activity is easy, by simply using your voice. Just say something like, “Hey Google, delete this week’s activity”, or “Hey Google, delete my last conversation”, and Google Assistant will delete your Assistant activity. This will reflect on your My Activity page, and you can also use this page to review and delete activity across the Google products you use. And if you have people coming over, you can also activate a “Guest Mode” on Google Assistant – Just say, “Hey Google, turn on Guest Mode,” and your Google Assistant interactions will not be saved to your account.

How does Google decide what ads it shows me? How can I control this?

The Ads you see can be based on a number of things, such as your previous searches, the sites you visit, ads clicked, and more. For example, you may discover that you are seeing a camera ad because you’ve searched for cameras, visited photography websites or clicked on ads for cameras before. The ‘Why this ad?’ feature helps you understand why you are seeing a given ad.

Data helps us personalise ads so that they’re more useful to you, but we never use the content of your emails or documents, or sensitive information like health, race, religion or sexual orientation, to tailor ads to you. It is also easy to personalize the kinds of ads that are shown to you, or even disable ads personalization completely. Visit your Ad Settings page.

Are you building a profile of my personal information across your products, for targeting ads?

We do not sell your personal information — not to advertisers, not to anyone. And we don’t use information in apps where you primarily store personal content — such as Gmail, Drive, Calendar and Photos — for advertising purposes. We use information to improve our products and services for you and for everyone. And we use anonymous, aggregated data to do so.

A small subset of information may be used to serve you relevant ads (for things you may actually want to hear about), but only with your consent. You can always turn these settings off. It is also important to note that you can use most of Google’s products completely anonymously, without logging in — you can Search in incognito mode, or clear your search history; you can watch YouTube videos and use Maps. However, when you share your data with us we can create a better experience with our products based on the information shared with us.

Are you reading my emails to sell ads?

We do not scan or read your Gmail messages to show you ads. In fact, we have a host of products like Gmail, Drive and Photos that are designed to store your personal content, and this content is never used to show ads. When you use your personal Google account and open the promotions or social tabs in Gmail, you’ll see ads that were selected to be the most useful and relevant for you. The process of selecting and showing personalized ads in Gmail is fully automated.

The ads you see in Gmail are based on data associated with your Google Account such as your activity in other Google services such as YouTube or Search, which could affect the types of ads that you see in Gmail. To remember which ads you’ve dismissed, avoid showing you the same ads, and show you ads you may like better, we save your past ad interactions, like which ads you’ve clicked or dismissed. Google does not use keywords or messages in your inbox to show you ads – nobody reads your email in order to show you ads. Also, if you have a work or school account, you will never be shown ads in Gmail. You can adjust your ad settings anytime. Learn more about Gmail ads.

Why do you need location information on Maps?

If you want to get from A to B, it’s quicker to have your phone tell us where you are, than to have you figure out your address or location. Location information helps in many other ways too, like helping us figure out how busy traffic is. If you choose to enable location sharing, your phone will send anonymous bits of information back to Google. This is combined with anonymous data from people around you to recognise traffic patterns.

This only happens for people who turn location history on. It is off by default. If you turn it on, but then change your mind, you can visit Your Data in Maps — a single place for people to manage Google account location settings.

What information does Google know about me? How do I control it?

You can see a summary of what Google services you use and the data saved in your account from your Google Dashboard. There are also powerful privacy controls like Activity Controls and Ad Settings, which allow you to switch the collection and use of data on or off to decide how all of Google can work better for you.

We’ve made it easier for you to make decisions about your data directly within the Google services you use every day. For example, without ever leaving Search, you can review and delete your recent search activity, get quick access to relevant privacy controls from your Google Account, and learn more about how Search works with your data. You can quickly access these controls in Search, Maps, and the Assistant.

Privacy features and controls have always been built into our services, and we’re continuously working to make it even easier to control and manage your privacy and security. But we know that the web is a constantly evolving space, where new threats and bad actors will unfortunately emerge. There will always be more work to be done, and safeguarding people who use our products and services every day will remain our focus. For more on how we keep you and your information private, safe and secure visit the Google Safety Center.

Disclaimer:The above questions and answers were originally published on Google’s own blog. Click here to read it.

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first published:July 13, 2021, 17:19 IST