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Google's My Activity Reveals How Much It Knows About You (theguardian.com) 114

An anonymous reader writes: Google has released a new section to Google's account settings, called My Activity, which lets users review everything that Google has tracked about their online behavior -- search, YouTube, Chrome, Android, and every other Google service. Best of all, users can edit or delete their tracked behaviors. In addition, the My Activity tools come with new ad preferences. Google is now offering to use its behavioral information to tailer ads shown across the wider non-Google internet and Google's search pages, which until now was purely done through the use of cookies. The difference between Google and other companies that offer ads like Facebook is that Google is making this interest-based advertising extension optional, or opt-in, not opt-out. There are two separate behavioral advertising settings for users to switch on or off: signed in ads and signed out ads. Signed in ads are those on Google services, and signed out ads are those served by Google on third-party sites. However, if you're conscious about your privacy, you'll probably want to stay opted out.
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Google's My Activity Reveals How Much It Knows About You

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  • by Thelasko ( 1196535 ) on Wednesday June 29, 2016 @05:41PM (#52416285) Journal
    I use Adblock most of the time. But, for some reason, by brain is convinced that interest-based ads will be less likely to serve up malware. I'm not interested in downloading malware, so it won't show me ads that host it. Right?
    • by darthsilun ( 3993753 ) on Wednesday June 29, 2016 @05:50PM (#52416327)

      Meh. Before I used Adblock I'd search for something, buy it, and then see ads for it for weeks.

      Which seems – to me – to be missing the target.

      • Meh. Before I used Adblock I'd search for something, buy it, and then see ads for it for weeks.

        Which seems – to me – to be missing the target.

        The flip side is I see and ad on a site where I don't block ads (because I value the site and am willing to put up with ads so they can continue to provide useful content), navigate past the page and then can't find the ad again when I want more information. That is why I consider most internet advertising wasted beyond creating an awareness of the product and perhaps a great propensity to buy it in the future.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        To be fair, most people buy condoms more than once in their lifetime, so you're a bit of an edge case.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 29, 2016 @05:42PM (#52416289)

    Google tracks everyone, whether or not you have "made a google account", which is another way to say "given them even better quality data".

    I went to that page. I do not see any way to delete the profile they build of me via google analytics and other things, because I have never made an account. So the only way I can accomplish this is to tell them even more about who I am?

    How about making profiling opt IN instead of opt OUT?

    • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

      Ive also noticed that google has a server side auto complete history even if your not logged in. How can I see that without having to go a....b...c....d...ect?

    • by ( 4475953 )

      Not only that, I've checked the My Activity profile after logging in, and I can assure everyone that Google knows way more about me than what they display there. That's because they store information by IP addresses, whether you're logged in or not, and also link different devices / Google accounts / IP addresses to your account whenever they can.

      My Activity does not "reveal how much it knows about you", it reveals just a few of the things Google knows about you.

      • Yeah, all my "My Activity" shows are some YouTube videos I've watched. But with a gmail account, a google calendar, and constant use of the google search engine, I'm pretty sure they're tracking a LOT more about me than just what YouTube vids I'm watching.

    • tell them even more about who I am

      Why, no, you can use it to tell them who you want to become. E.g. I am going to update them that I am on the market for a multi-million racing yacht. I only want to see adverts about racing yachts. Who knows, maybe after enough ad brainwashing I might just buy one :)

  • by matbury ( 3458347 ) on Wednesday June 29, 2016 @05:44PM (#52416303) Homepage

    If you believe that Google would willingly stop collecting any data about you on your request, well, you're more naive than I thought. My bet is that they just stop revealing those data to you that they say they'll stop collecting and then use the additional data, i.e. that you opted out, to further profile you, e.g. the user is sensitive about A, B, & C and has preferences for X, Y, & Z.

    • If you believe that Google would willingly stop collecting any data about you on your request, well, you're more naive than I thought.

      Or if you actually look into it they are talking about very specific data. No one is talking about being able to wipe your online presence, but rather you can customise the results Youtube suggest based on your interest, or search results returned based on your past searching. What makes you think they need any of this? Google can target ads to you just fine without it.

    • by swillden ( 191260 ) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Wednesday June 29, 2016 @06:45PM (#52416545) Homepage Journal

      If you believe that Google would willingly stop collecting any data about you on your request, well, you're more naive than I thought.

      Remember that Google is subject to an FTC consent decree from the Buzz privacy investigation. As a result of that, they're regularly audited by the FTC, and if the FTC were to find that Google were not acting in accord with public privacy-related statements Google would be in big trouble. Even if the FTC's fine were trivial (which I don't think it would be), you can bet the EU would pile on a much bigger one. And the damage to Google's brand would be incredible.

      Believe what you like, but the reality is that Google would have to be dumber than a box of rocks to lie. There's way too much at stake.

      (Disclaimer/disclosure: I'm a Google employee, but I'm speaking only for myself.)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Are you implying that the FTC are granted access and go through EVERYTHING that google has?

        Not to belabor the point, but all google has to do move the data for users who opt out from the "stuff we got on people" to some other, more obscure location.

        If anything, I am pretty sure google collects usage data on people who don't even have google accounts, based on IPs, usage patterns and whatnot, people who have never consented to google's terms and don't have a way to opt out.

        And following google's own rhetoric

        • Are you implying that the FTC are granted access and go through EVERYTHING that google has?

          They have carte blanche.

    • Yes. Because it's in their interest.

      They also don't stop collecting information. They get additional information from you telling them what parts of the information they got about you are right. They know that humans are fickle beings and something that they were absolutely engrossed in today is absolutely boring and uninteresting for them tomorrow. With this tool, they don't have to find out when you lose interest in some celebrity.

      You tell them.

    • No matter how they behave I see it as impractical that these opt-outs are either based on account settings of signed in users or cookies set on signed-out users, so if you choose never to sign in and prefer not to accept, or to clear cookies after each session then you can't actually very well opt-out of anything. Its same issue with the ad industry behavioral advertising opt-out http://www.aboutads.info/choic... [aboutads.info] , useless if you clear cookies.
      • Yep, good point. Perhaps ISPs should be required to offer a selection of VPN service providers to customers so they can opt out of being tracked?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If you really want privacy from Google you can get it but you have to do a bit of work for it. First you need to browse the Internet through an anonymizing proxy service. Second, you need to use script blocking, ad blocking and cookie management plugins in your browser. Third, you need to use anti browser fingerprint plugins to randomize your HTML canvas data, user agent, http-accept headers, etc. Finally, you need to avoid logging into Google services while you're operational and never from the same IP add

  • First reaction: Wow, I sure watch a lot of old Bob Ross and Carol Burnett Show videos on Youtube.

    Second reaction: Wow, is there anything but old Bob Ross and Carol Burnett Show videos in here?

    Third reaction: Wow, I'm really boring....

  • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Wednesday June 29, 2016 @06:04PM (#52416383) Homepage

    The Google links in the summary are bad. Just go to https://myactivity.google.com/ [google.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    users can edit or delete their tracked behaviors

    You mean users can mark the behavior that's most embarrassing to them, don't you.

    • I believe the subroutine that tracks what you care enough about to delete is called streisand_effect().
  • The link to the ad controls in the summary is broken. The correct target is https://www.google.com/setting... [google.com]
  • porn (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 29, 2016 @06:18PM (#52416445)

    Nothing but bbw midget hentai porn 20 hours a day, i had no idea I was away from the computer for 4 hours a day!

  • by theskipper ( 461997 ) on Wednesday June 29, 2016 @06:20PM (#52416455)

    I may be naive and eventually end up with egg on my face but here goes. In today's world we all know the horse has left the gate wrt privacy. It seems the issue now isn't who's collecting the data, it's what happens to your data after it's been scooped up. And what keeps the data from escaping comes down to the question of how that data is being exploited for generating revenue.

    Google gets a lot of flack around here but if you follow the money, they have a pretty good incentive to do whatever it takes to keep the tracking data high-quality and most definitely in-house. Mainly because they own the search market and the better the ad targeting, the more protected Alphabet's revenue stream is.

    Apple is obviously dependent on hardware sales so not much needs to be said about that. Plus they really don't want bad PR from data escaping.

    So let's compare that to the other 800lb gorilla(s). I don't see any reason why Facebook, Pinterest, etc. wouldn't incorporate outright sale of their tracking data to third parties (if they don't ship it out the back door already). Sure, they're dependent on ad/affiliate revenue too but with one other important difference. Google has an (effective) search monopoly where data exposure would stir up a hornet's nest of legal issues directly or indirectly.

    Facebook has little to lose since their product (users) don't seem to care what happens to their data as long as they can post their cat pictures. And they've built a Terms of Use that guarantees they own every aspect of the data (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Facebook#Terms_of_Use_controversy). Not to mention there's not been much talk of anyone caring about a company holding a monopoly in the social network sphere. It's a 'meh' issue when compared to search market share.

    So what's keeping Facebook from transforming more of their revenue stream from ad sales to data sales down the road? Especially with the ad controversies that were swirling around (https://youtu.be/oVfHeWTKjag)? Following the money...not much?

    P.S. - s/tailer/tailor

  • So, what if I don't mind being tracked by Google, but I just don't want this webpage available for anyone out there to access (ie if my password gets compromised)? I can't see a way to opt out of the availability of the data without deleting the data.

    • So, what if I don't mind being tracked by Google, but I just don't want this webpage available for anyone out there to access (ie if my password gets compromised)? I can't see a way to opt out of the availability of the data without deleting the data.

      Secure your account well. Use a good password and turn on two-factor authentication.

      Also, you may want to use the "Send Feedback" link and suggest that there should be an option to turn this off. I'm not sure how it would work, though, since there would clearly also need to be a way to turn it on. What would prevent someone who compromised your account from doing that?

      • Hah. Good point, yeah. Time for me to get off my butt and actually get 2-factor going.

        • Hah. Good point, yeah. Time for me to get off my butt and actually get 2-factor going.

          It's pretty painless, especially with the Authenticator app. SMS works, too, but if you're somewhere that you don't have cell coverage it can be problematic. Authenticator works on or off-line. I also recommend setting up a couple of different options: maybe use Authenticator as your primary and SMS for a backup (and maybe even add your wife's phone as another backup), and/or print out some codes to keep in your wallet.

          Hrm. That paragraph makes it sound complicated. It's really not.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I have a robot that allows me to select my "identity du jour" before going to bed.
    While I sleep, it wanders the web engaging in activities that enforce my new persona.
    Tomorrow, perhaps I'll be a ballerina with an STD, or maybe a butcher who loves animals, or . . .
    . . . decisions, decisions, decisions

  • Since I use Google Navigate to warn me about traffic problems every time I drive anywhere, this information would be very useful to any assassin wanted to track my movement patterns. Or any wives/mistresses/girlfriends, for that matter. And yes, my ex-wife used to go through my phone while I was sleeping to see what I had been doing.
  • You'd think by now Google would know what kind of porn I liked, and could recommend the good stuff for me, wouldn't you? Unless... they are actually taking this "incognito window" stuff seriously.
    • by TroII ( 4484479 )

      You'd think by now Google would know what kind of porn I liked, and could recommend the good stuff for me, wouldn't you?

      That's what Bing is for. It is, hands down (or one-handed?), the best porn search engine on the internet.

  • by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <gameboyrmhNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday June 29, 2016 @07:36PM (#52416781) Journal

    I uses it to reduce my activity to Desert With Tumbleweed!

  • Not sure if I should be happy or worried there's nothing there but my YouTube history considering how much I use Google+, Voice, Calendar, Search, Nexus tablet, and other services I don't even remember they've become so ubiquitous to my life.

  • ..and deleting my search history. I don't see what is new here except maybe a fancy new interface.,,,,

  • by shanen ( 462549 ) on Wednesday June 29, 2016 @10:22PM (#52417297) Homepage Journal

    Looked it over, but I can't figure out what it means. Both the google's version of "My Activity" and the slashdot side consisting of an article and visible comments. Now I expect such obfuscation from the google since their motto became "All your attention are belong to us", but I confabulate that slashdot used to be more revealing.

    Short summary: The level of information that the "My Activity" page reveals is without form or meaning. Too much data and no way to understand how it is used, though I'm still sure it is mostly used to manipulate and twist us to the google's will. What we really need to know is HOW the google analyzes the data and WHEN it is being used and in WHICH ways. Probably an impossible problem since all of us are too stupid to understand the google. The google will tell me so, even though the search "how to outsmart google" came up with a couple of interesting books (that are not available locally, at least not in English).

    Long answer: Naw, I can't be bothered to write more, and would be "penalized" for the long comment if I did. Today's slashdot doesn't motivate the effort to write so thoughtfully. It doesn't even have a fraction of the funny comments it used to. However, I might be confabulating myself again.

    (Now if slashdot supported such a financial model, I might be motivated to help support a project to detect abusive long comments, such as long cut-and-paste blurbs from the Web. Whoa, dead horse, whoa.)

  • by Pulzar ( 81031 ) on Wednesday June 29, 2016 @11:20PM (#52417431)

    Try clicking on "other google activity", and then location history. It's incredibly accurate. I can see where I walked around 2 years ago and made wrong turns and walked back.

    • Try clicking on "other google activity", and then location history. It's incredibly accurate. I can see where I walked around 2 years ago and made wrong turns and walked back.

      I think it's awesome. My Google Maps timeline goes back to early 2010 when I got my first smartphone (an iPhone4). It's spotty from then until September 21, 2011, when I got my first Android phone (I turned on location history immediately). The iPhone-provided data is spotty, but still very useful. It was only provided when I was using the Google Maps app, but that means it at least contains a record of all of my travels to other cities, states and countries -- in 2010, I traveled to Santiago, Chile; Los An

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I think these guys assume there would be a lot of backlash if people saw all this stuff at once from some other source. Or maybe they can see users pulling back and going to DuckDuckGo or other services. So they're trying to prevent that by showing you a bit more of tracking creepiness, so you get used to it and don't complain later.

  • Now all we need is an "NSA My Activity" and we're good to go.
  • by andrewbaldwin ( 442273 ) on Thursday June 30, 2016 @04:21AM (#52417999)

    I have search history, location history.... all turned off so I get a 'nothing to see here' level of output.

    Does this mean that Google is genuinely not collecting my history? or is it more likely that they are and my opting out merely sets a flag used by the presentation layer to send back an empty set?

    I'd be surprised if it were not the latter.

  • The quick, right-to-the-point URL to delete everything:

    http://myactivity.google.com/delete-activity/ [google.com]

    (Sign in if needed.)

    Select "All Time" from the top pull-down, then hit "DELETE".

  • There are a lot of youtube videos in there that I didn't watch (country music videos from VEVO stations). I wonder if someone isn't embedding silent invisible players in web pages somewhere to drive ad revenue...

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