What Google can teach you about yourself
The other day I was stalking Google.
It happens sometimes.
Google is a fascinating and complicated machine, yet it makes everything look simple. I love finding out how it ticks, it comes in handy for work.
I get the odd chance to play around with Google Analytics. If you have a website and you’ve installed Google Analytics it will tell you a million things about your visitors. There’s a tonne of data in there that you can export and play around with.
I’m a sucker for a graph or two, so I consider my Google Analytics time as a guilty pleasure, it’s not really part of my role to go digging round in Analytics for no reason.
So, imagine my surprise, and in some way my horror, when I realised there’s something similar for every single person who’s ever signed up to Google.
It’s called Google Activity.
To find it, log into google on whatever device, then google “Google Activity”.
This free ‘service’ shows you all the data that Google have on you, your searches, your locations, the things you’ve read and watched.
I sat there looking at it wide eyed in amazement. Certain past searches or trips reminding me of days long since forgotten.
Like the time I googled my local church hall because I wanted to join a writers group. Or that random time in 2015 I went to visit my mum in Wales. Or that time in 2008 I was googling houses to rent on Rightmove…
After recklessly clicking around (really, is there any other way?!) I found a map section that shows the places I visit most often.
I believe it only collects data when ‘location services’ is on, for me that is sporadically indeed. I usually only switch it on when I want to go somewhere, but it’s still managed to capture a relatively complete picture of my movements:
It’s fairly obvious I live in Shipley.
- Is the house where the ceiling fell in
- Is the road that runs alongside the train tracks to get me to work
- Is the house I moved out of earlier this year
- Is the only supermarket in Shipley
- Is where I work
- Is where I arrive to get to work
- Is where I live
- It was my birthday and someone gave me money for a takeaway
Those are just the most visited. It remembers my trip to London 3 years ago. It remembers that day I was in a vile mood and googled: ‘how to stop hating yourself’. It was like a window into my past.
I have control over this info. I can delete it if I want. To be honest, I’d be much happier if they’d let me export it and put it all in a graph that I could play with.
I did find a way to export it.
I even found a way to open the JSON file it gives you. I couldn’t make it into graphs though no matter how hard I tried.
I was hoping I would learn something from the experience. Instead all I found was what I already knew. I’m a lazy googler. I never just go straight to You Tube, I google it. Sometimes I even google ‘Google’ to get into my drive or my email.
I thought it might show some growth, some clear interests emerging, but the data isn’t user friendly enough to give me insights.
Instead all I took away was an uncomfortable feeling. Like I was holding a smelly sock in my hand. Essentially it’s just a sock that needs a wash but it makes you feel gross all the same.
Have you been to Google Activity? Did you learn anything? What do you think? Let’s talk about it in the comments :)
Interested in self discovery? This was quite an interesting one: