When lazy journalists are pessimistic about Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home, they say stuff like: “Even Orwell couldn’t have predicted that we’d willingly bring Big Brother into our own homes.”
What they fail to mention is our willingness to exchange privacy for convenience didn’t start with the advent of virtual assistants. It started in the early 2000s, when people—in return for having access to Google products and seeing more relevant ads—allowed Google to have all their data.
Today, Google provides marketers like me with so much of your personal data that we can infer more about you from it than from any camera or microphone.
There have never been more opportunities for marketers like me to exploit your data. Today, 40,000 Google search queries are conducted every second. That’s 3.5 billion searches per day, 1.2 trillion searches per year.
When you search on Google, your query travels to a data center, where up to 1,000 computers work together to retrieve the results and send them back to you. This whole process usually happens in less than one-fifth of a second.
Most people don’t realize that while this is going on, an even faster and more mysterious process is happening behind the scenes: An auction is taking place.
For as long as you’ve been using Google, Google has been building a “citizen profile” on you.
Every internet search contains keywords, and the keywords you just entered into Google are fought over by advertisers. Each advertiser who offers a product related to your keywords wants its ad to be seen and clicked.
Then, like cartoon toys scrambling to get back in the right order before their owner throws on the light, the ads finalize their positions before your customized results page loads on your screen.
Generally, your first four search results—what you see before having to scroll down—are all paid advertisements. If you didn’t know this, you’re not alone. More than 50 percent of people between the ages of 18–34 can’t differentiate between an ad and an organic result on Google. For those over 35, that percentage grows proportionally higher. (To maximize this percentage, Google is always testing to find ad visuals that blend in best with organic results.)
Once you click on an ad, your information passes through to search engine marketers, where it’s forever stored in an AdWords account, never to be erased.
In case you were starting to feel a semblance of happiness, what with the holidays around the corner, here is a complete checklist of everything Google knows about you—thereby all the ways you’re tracked—as of December 2018:
- Your age
- Your income
- Your gender
- Your parental status
- Your relationship status
- Your browsing history (long-term and short-term)
- Your device (phone, tablet, desktop, TV)
- Your physical location
- The age of your child (toddler, infant, etc.)
- How well you did in high school
- The degree you hold
- The time (of day) of your Google usage
- The language you speak
- Whether you’ve just had a major life event
- Your home ownership status
- Your mobile carrier
- The exact words you enter into Google search
- The context and topics of the websites you visit
- The products you buy
- The products you have almost bought
- Your Wi-Fi type
- Your proximity to a cell tower
- Your app installation history
- The amount of time you spend on certain apps
- Your operating system
- The contents of your email
- The time you spend on certain websites
- Whether you’re moving (e.g., into a new home)
- Whether you’re moving (e.g., walking or on a train)
* The above targeting methods are made available to search engine marketers by Google within marketers’ Ads UI. Info is also freely available here.
For as long as you’ve been using Google, Google has been building a “citizen profile” on you. This profile contains: