A new analysis of how people are tracked on the internet confirms that wherever you lead, Big Tech will follow – and, Big Tech doesn’t always ask your permission.
According to an analysis by StockApps, the titan of tracking is Google. Out of the five major digital firms – Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Apple – Google mines the biggest chunk of data on its users at 39 different data points.
On top of the company's tracking being considerable, it's also concerning. Earlier this year, four state attorneys general sued Google over its tracking policies
“Most people do not have the time or patience to read privacy policies that can be several pages long for each website they visit,” StockApps’ Edith Reads said.
How to stop Google in its tracks
The analysts say other than random user information, Google also silos a considerable amount of data on several domains running from users' specific location to their browser history. Moreover, it stores user activity on third-party websites or apps and emails on users' Gmail accounts.
What can Google users do to try and keep Google’s prying eyes off their data? ConsumerAffairs reached out to several experts and here are their suggestions:
Turn off location tracking: Location tracking is important to Google because it’s part of what it can collect, and then offer to advertisers and vendors who want to provide a better user experience or feed information that might be of more interest to the user, says Jon Clay, VP of Threat Intelligence at Trend Micro.
“But it also comes at a cost of privacy. In many cases, these companies may sell the information to other businesses that will use it as well. Many users may not want this invasion of their privacy and want to opt-out of this type of data gathering.”
He said that turning off location tracking has both a good side and a bad one. “As an example, one trade-off would be that the user wouldn’t have the ability to utilize location services when they need them.”
To test Clay’s point, when ConsumerAffairs looked at what phone apps had “location” turned on as part of an app’s permission, there were several that did help a consumer get to, say, the closest CVS or Costco store. Turning those off if you always use the same store location might make sense.
Consider changing your browser: "Your choice of browser matters,” Melissa Johnson, a content marketing and SEO specialist at MerchantMaverick, suggested.
“Using Chrome, especially while signed in, is one of the simplest ways to allow Google to track your movements and searches. Using Incognito by default limits some of this, but a better option is to switch to a browser such as Firefox Focus, which is designed specifically to limit tracking and protect privacy,” Johnson said.
Clay added that DuckDuckGo – which claims that it never tracks anyone – is another viable search engine alternative.
Change your ad personalization settings: “One of the ways Google tracks users is to provide them with personalized advertisements. While sometimes personalized ads can be helpful in providing you with information about products and services you're most interested in, their tracking isn't 100% perfect,” Irene Muchai, Business Development Director at Online Optimism, said.
Muchai suggests that users turn off certain factors that Google thinks they are interested in. She said the steps are simple: go to Google Ad Settings then Ad Personalization and switch off any attributes that aren't relevant to you or turn them all off entirely.
“By doing so, Google won't track any behaviors you may exhibit online based on certain factors or just won't track you at all so your ads will no longer be as personalized as they once were,” Muchai noted.